The term COSHH means Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, it’s a well-known health and safety law that was introduced to reduce the risk of employers and employees being exposed to hazardous chemicals and substances in the workplace by implementing strict and specific guidelines for everyone to follow when dealing with hazardous substances.
It places the responsibility on employers to ensure that all employees working with hazardous substances are not exposed to undue risks, working with hazardous substances is not something most of us would choose to do but the fact is some people have no choice, they have to deal with dangerous chemicals on a daily basis so for them, COSHH plays a very important role in eliminating and reducing the risk of poisoning or even death.
Over a thousand cases of poisoning from hazardous substances occur every year in the UK and quite a large percentage of these are work-related because many employers and employees are completely unaware of the dangers involved in using certain chemicals and substances.
For this reason, one of the main goals of COSHH is to educate both employers and employees on the dangers of being exposed to substances such as chemicals, fumes, dust, mists and vapours and to help them understand how to prevent or reduce the likeliness to being exposed to these hazardous substances.
COSHH: Safety with hazardous substances
When working on a task involving hazardous chemicals, it’s vital that correct safety protocol is followed. Without such protocol you, your colleagues or even passers-by could be seriously injured, as well as risking legal consequences and setbacks to your project.
Below are some guidelines about the safe handling and use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
When working with a hazardous chemical (or indeed any chemical), some degree of exposure is difficult to avoid.
Exposure is when the chemical comes into contact with your body or enters it by one of the various routes, for example by breathing it in, having it contact your skin, by swallowing it or by introduction via a wound or injection.
It’s particularly important to minimise exposure to any agent which is known to cause asthma, cancer or heritable DNA damage.
The majority of chemicals do not have a workplace exposure limit. Determining whether these limits are being adhered to can be achieved by measuring the quantity of the substance in the air during a task; a service which can be carried out by a specialised consultant.
8 principles of good practice
- Processes and tasks should be designed in such a way that the emission, release and spread of any hazardous agent is minimised as much as is reasonably practical.
- Protocols and plans for tasks should be examined in order to recognise all possible routes of exposure, for example, sharp implements, skin contact or ingestion.
- Any measures put into place to minimise exposure should be proportional to the level of risk the agent represents; it is not practical to implement exhaustive measures to avoid agents with low risk, but it is reckless to avoid implementing measures which could reduce exposure to more dangerous agents.
- Once potential control measures have been identified, they should be examined for practicality and effectiveness. The most effective measures should be implemented before others.
- If exposure cannot be reduced by any other means, any individuals who will be working with or near the agent in question should be provided with adequate personal protective equipment.
- Any plans and measures implemented should be reviewed regularly.
- Staff working with or near hazardous agents should be trained in their safe use and in measures used to minimise exposure.
- Whilst reducing exposure to hazardous substances should be prioritised, no measure intended to do so should reduce the health or safety of a staff member more than exposure would.
As stated on the HSE Website it’s possible to prevent and reduce workers from being exposed to hazardous substances by:
- Finding out what the health hazards are
- Deciding how to prevent harm to health
- Providing control measures to reduce harm to health
- Making sure they are used
- Keeping all control measures in good working order
- Providing information, instruction and training for employees and others
- Providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases
- Planning for emergencies