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The skull and crossbones marked a COSHH cabinet ahead of its time

Learn what the COSHH regulations are, what they mean to you, and how to protect people over whom you have a duty of care in the workplace by doing an accurate COSHH assessment. Safety Storage Centre illustrates products to help you, and advises on how to select the right ones.

COSHHIt is the skull and crossbones I remember the most. Roughly painted in black on the faded primrose yellow door, it haunted my early childhood, and I certainly never dreamed of opening the door to see what was inside.

The painting was on the door of a weary old kitchen cabinet in the garage round the corner at my friend’s house, where his dad did odd jobs, and where we were allowed to play on rainy days.

Plastic soldiers fought imaginary battles on that garage floor; Dinky toys were props in childhood driving games, and all were overlooked by the unseeing eyes in the badly-drawn skull.

Years later I found that the cabinet contained oils and greases; paint with lead in it, and a lot of other badly-labelled containers half-full of all manner of noxious materials that are probably no longer available. He’d been absolutely right to discourage us from looking inside.

My friend’s Dad was ahead of his time, I suppose, having invented the COSHH cabinet more than 30 years before introduction of the COSHH legislation that made it necessary. (I almost wrote that he’d unintentionally invented it, but the reverse was true. He had fully intended to keep our small boyish fingers away from things that could no doubt have done us a very great deal of harm).

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and is the name of legislation, introduced to the UK in 2002, giving employers a responsibility to reduce or prevent workers’ exposure to hazardous substances.

Significantly, the definition of ‘workers’ in this context applies just as easily to students in universities and children in schools – and ‘workers’ also covers people in offices as well as those in overalls.

What substances are covered?

Let’s start with what’s not covered. Lead, asbestos and radioactive materials are dealt with under their own legislation, and therefore not covered by COSHH rules.

However, it still leaves a huge range of materials that are within the legislation’s scope. Chemicals, or products containing chemicals, fumes, dust, vapour, mists, gases, and biological agents (germs, to you and me), are all there.

It’s important to note that these are ‘types of things’, rather than specific items. That means the list of actual substances employers (or school and university staff) are required to protect people from, could be extensive indeed.

How do I know what risks are around me?

You’ll need to do a COSHH assessment, and the things you’ll need to look out for vary from location to location and process to process. The Health and Safety Executive have a very helpful selection of sample assessments that will guide you through the process for your own situation – or one very much like it – and show you how to remove things that you can do without, or control access to things that must stay. In terms of schools, it’s a bit obvious, and the warning ‘Keep away from children’ sums it up very well.

There will no doubt be a list of substances identified as hazardous in your COSHH assessment, and that means that the range of available protection, in the form of COSHH cabinets, comes in all shapes and sizes.

COSHH cabinets

Safety Storage Centre offers a large range of hazardous-chemical cabinets, and one of those might serve your COSHH needs – but we also offer a specifically designed range of COSHH cabinets.

Wherever you buy your COSHH cabinet from, you’ll need to ask yourself these questions, and factor the answers into your buying decision:

• Is it the right size for what I need to store?
• Does it comply with COSHH and DSEAR regulations?
• Does is have a sump to catch spills?
• Is it made from strong material, using robust construction methods?
• Can the contents be segregated?
• Should I have a keyed or combination lock?
• Does it need to be fixed, or mobile?
• Does it have a smoke detector? Do I need one?

There’s much more to the COSHH regulations than I can usefully cover in this blog. Nevertheless I trust it’s given you food for thought and if you’re not already familiar with the rules, it might spur you on to find out more on the Health & Safety Executive website.

After all, keeping people safe is part of your duty of care as an employer…


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