What Substances are Covered by COSHH?

What Substances are Covered by COSHH?

COSHH covers substances that are ‘hazardous to health’, like chemicals, biological agents, germs that cause diseases, gasses, dusts and vapours.

Chemicals are dangerous when they are corrosive, flammable or explosive. A substance can be hazardous to health if an organisation fails to properly handle or store it. This is because they may cause disease, accident or injury. As a result, this is where the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations come into play, as they provide employers with guidelines and safe practices.

COSHH also imposes workplace exposure limits (WELs) on these materials to reduce the risk of harm. The long-term WEL is a total of 8 hours, whereas the short-term limit is 15 minutes.[1]

An organisation may use dangerous substances in certain daily jobs or be “generated during work activities”.[2] Examples of chemicals involved in work include paint, cleaning products, fuel and certain types of acid.

The regulations apply both to organisations, employees and those that are self-employed. Naturally though, they have different duties in preventing harm.

Substances that COSHH Doesn’t Cover

However, this does not mean that the COSHH regulations cover all potentially dangerous substances. It simply can’t, because it would become too general. The substances that COSHH does not cover include:

  • Asbestos
  • Radioactive material
  • Lead
  • Pesticides
  • Welding fumes

This is not because they are not dangerous to health, because they most certainly are. It is, in fact, due to these things already having specific laws. For example, UK asbestos rules are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR12). Specialised laws can cover the particulars of handling that certain substance a lot better than a more general set of regulations like COSHH can.

As per regulation 5, it also doesn’t cover when “the risk to health is a risk to the health of a person to whom the substance is administered in the course of his medical treatment”.[3] In this case, medical treatment is carried out by any health or dental practitioner.

How Do You Stay Informed About the Substances You Use?

The best way to stay informed about the materials you use at work is to gather safety data sheets, or SDSs. This is usually a part of a COSHH assessment, and the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals) European Union directive. You should be performing an assessment every year or so, meaning you should be up to date with these substances. To be clear, a healthy collection of data sheets is not a substitute for a risk assessment, as it is only the “first stage in the assessment process”[4]

In an SDS, you will understand more about the dangers of certain substances. It is a very useful document that details a specific chemical, be it a certain type of acid or substance in bleach. It will outline a few things, including:

  • What the chemical is/what chemical is inside a particular product
  • Why the chemical is dangerous
  • When the chemical is dangerous i.e. when inhaled or when on the skin
  • Safe handling
  • Procedures for accidental exposure

However, obviously not all COSHH substances are chemicals. This means that you shouldn’t solely rely on SDSs when you conduct your risk assessment. You will need to do extra research for things like germs and other biological agents.

Manufacturers will normally provide an SDS for all of their dangerous chemicals. In the event that they don’t, then you can get one by contacting the original manufacturer. In some cases, they may be available online.

For more information, you can refer to an eLearning course. Our course offers a wide range of COSHH topics, and it’s RoSPA approved.

You can view our online COSHH training course here.


[1] https://www.haspod.com/blog/coshh/coshh-workplace-exposure-limits-wels

[2] https://www.hr-24.co.uk/articles/substances-hazardous-to-health/

[3] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/2677/regulation/5/made

[4] http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/further/faq.htm#safety-data-sheets