COSHH - The Basics Every Employer Needs to Know

COSHH - The Basics Every Employer Needs to Know

author

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

20 September 2023

Updated

17 July 2024
4 min read
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As an employer, you will be aware of the importance of safety in the workplace, but are you aware of how to manage hazardous substances? In the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 is what you need to follow. Why? Because not doing so can lead to illness, legal repercussions, and damage to your company's reputation.

Read on for the essentials of COSHH management that you need to understand.

Why COSHH Matters to You

This UK law is overseen by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), and it aims to minimise or completely prevent your staff's exposure to hazardous substances. Every year, thousands of workers suffer from health issues due to exposure to harmful substances at work. These can range from minor irritations to severe illnesses like cancer. COSHH aims to prevent this and as an employer, it's your duty to follow these regulations, not just for your team's well-being but to also avoid legal repercussions.

If you're an employer, especially in industries like manufacturing, construction, healthcare, or any field that involves the use of chemicals or other hazardous substances, COSHH is directly relevant to you. Even offices can have substances that fall under COSHH, like certain cleaning materials. If you handle substances that could harm your employees if not properly managed, you need to be familiar with COSHH regulations.

What Substances and Hazards Fall Under COSHH?

The term "substances" in COSHH isn't just limited to chemicals in liquid form. It's a broad category that encompasses everything from liquids and solids to fumes, gases, and even biological entities like bacteria and viruses. The scope also extends to mists, dust, vapours, and fibres, along with emerging concerns like nano-particles.

As for the "hazardous" aspect, it's not only about obvious dangers like skin burns or inhalation issues. The risks go beyond that, affecting internal organs, your respiratory system, and even your genetic material. It also includes harm to your eyes, central nervous system, as well as the mouth and nose. Additionally, the hazards could be in the form of combustions or explosions, posing immediate physical dangers.

Your Responsibilities Under COSHH

Your Responsibilities Under COSHH

As someone who runs a business, you have specific duties under COSHH including:

  1. Risk Assessment: You have to identify if any hazardous substances are in use or are produced at your workplace. The UK regulations mandate a complete risk assessment.
  2. Control Measures: If risks are identified, you need to manage them. This could mean anything from using a safer alternative to the hazardous substance to using barriers or personal protective equipment (PPE).
  3. Training: Teach your staff how to handle these substances safely. It's not just a nice-to-have; it's required by law.
  4. Monitoring: Regularly check if your safety measures are effective. Also, keep an eye on the health of those handling dangerous substances.
  5. Record-Keeping: Document everything related to hazardous substances, from the risk assessments to the safety measures implemented.

Here are some additional steps you can take to ensure you're on top of your COSHH responsibilities:

  1. Consult Safety Data Sheets: Manufacturers provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for their products that contain hazardous substances. Always consult these before using a new product.
  2. Clear Signage: Label all containers and storage areas with the appropriate hazard symbols. This informs your employees about the risks involved and the safety precautions to be observed.
  3. Emergency Response Plans: Have plans in place for emergency situations. Whether it's a chemical spill or exposure, your team should know what to do.
  4. Regular Audits: Schedule periodic audits to ensure that all safety measures are in place and up to date. This isn't just good practice; it's also mandated by the COSHH regulations.
  5. Involve Your Team: Health and safety is everyone's responsibility. Make sure your team knows how to report unsafe conditions or practices and encourage them to do so.
  6. Stay up-to-date: Laws change. As do the types of hazardous substances you may be using. Stay informed of any updates to COSHH regulations and make necessary adjustments to your workplace policies and procedures.

Penalties for Ignoring COSHH

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes violations seriously, but it's not just about avoiding fines; your company's reputation is at stake, too. Injuries or accidents caused due to ignoring COSHH can lead to a loss in productivity and higher employee turnover. On the plus side, following COSHH creates a safer work environment which means healthier employees, less absenteeism, and a more productive workforce. It can also boost your company's image as a responsible employer.

What COSHH Doesn't Cover

COSHH is thorough but not all-encompassing. Some substances are covered under different UK regulations. For instance, asbestos falls under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, and radioactive substances come under the Ionising Radiations Regulations.

FAQs and Further Information

Do all industries need to follow COSHH?
Yes, COSHH applies wherever hazardous substances are used or produced, regardless of the industry.

How do I assess risks?
Start by identifying hazardous substances, then evaluate how they're used or produced. Based on this, decide what safety measures are needed.

Where can I get more info?
Visit the HSE website. They offer complete guidelines on COSHH, which are specifically tailored to help employers understand their duties under the law.

Can I outsource COSHH Management?

If you find it overwhelming to manage COSHH regulations on your own, it's okay to seek expert help. Many companies specialise in health & safety compliance and can provide you with the resources you need to meet all legal requirements.

Conclusion

A well-implemented COSHH program not only keeps you compliant but also contributes to a safer, more efficient, and more responsible business. For further information, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides extensive guidelines and resources on COSHH. Visit HSE COSHH webpage to explore these resources.

Our helpful team can assist you with your COSHH responsibilities. Starting with support to identify hazardous substances in your workplace via thorough risk assessments, to developing a strategic plan tailored to control these risks effectively. We can also provide practical assistance in running training sessions for your staff to educate them on the safe handling of hazardous substances and what to do in case of emergencies. When it comes to maintaining up-to-date documentation, including risk assessments and incident reports, our team can support you here too.

By partnering with Neathouse, you not only ensure a safer work environment but also achieve compliance with UK regulations, saving both time and resources.

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