COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and it is a regulation that protects employees from prolonged exposure to certain chemicals or materials that can often be household items. It was fully implemented and amended in 2002, improving on the previous 1988 version.
As set out by the legislation itself, it involves a multi-stage process to determine any threats that staff members may face by using risk assessments and safety data sheets. These are crucial, as they must later inform health and safety policy towards hazardous substances. After the dangers have been successfully identified, controlling measures must be implemented based on the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) and the amount of chemicals experienced by the employee. Only if a WEL is exceeded can employers give out protective respiratory equipment to minimise the effects. After which, training is given to ensure employees know of the true danger of the substance they are handling.
It is illegal if any organisation fails to protect employees by not properly carrying out any of these steps. If they do so, they may face significant fines and even imprisonment of responsible employees. Employers have duties and responsibilities in securing the well-being of all members of staff, and so COSHH must be carefully examined and well-implemented by all organisations.
What Items are Hazardous According to COSHH?
COSHH only legislates against certain substances, but most of those that are “hazardous to health” are covered. It does not however legislate for certain resources like lead, radioactive material and asbestos, as these already have their own specialised laws.
These regulations set-out the cases in which employees may come into contact with or inadvertently consume hazardous substances, including inhalation or swallowing, or skin and eye contact.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are multiple types of hazardous substances that may be dangerous to well-being:
- Chemicals, or substances containing unsafe levels of chemicals
- Fumes and gasses
- Dusts or fibres resembling dust
- Biological agents like bacteria
These are often used in the production of many household items that can be dangerous with long exposure to them in the workplace. Such examples of which may include:
- Many commercial liquid-based cleaning products like bleach – these can also contain toxic gases like chlorine
- Paints, glues and any other types of solvent as well as their vapours
- Any dust or power that can be inhaled i.e. wood fibres
All of these can be poisonous and have adverse effects on the health of a person. For example, health problems that result from exposure to certain corrosive chemicals include skin and eye irritation, or in worse cases poisoning. This can lead to a weakened immune system and damage certain vital organs. Flammable and explosive substances have a very immediate danger as they cause even more issues for a persons’ well-being and may be widespread amongst all colleagues involved, if it is even slightly improperly handled.
If in the workplace, you exceed a WEL for any of the above items, it is very important to protect yourself or control your exposure to them. This may be done by providing staff members with personal protective equipment (PPE), only after a risk assessment has been carried out and it concluded that a person has a lot of exposure to a hazardous substance.
WELs differ depending on the amount of exposure a person has to a substance, as well as the particular occupation. Employers must measure and monitor levels of contact with dangerous materials. Different WELs for specific jobs may be found in the 2018 HSE booklet of exposure