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Last updated: 30.08.19

Understanding Safety Data Sheets and COSHH

Hazardous substances can be more common than you might think, and they’re a fairly large risk to employees in a great many businesses in certain industries.

As a result, we have the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, known as COSHH, which provides a framework for ensuring that people are safe when working with potentially dangerous substances. Safety Data Sheets, often abbreviated simply to SDS, are another way in which businesses can ensure their employees are not at risk of workplace accidents. The question is, what do these two safety measures have to do with one another?

How does COSHH work?

The COSHH regulations, as already mentioned, explain how harmful substances must be controlled in the workplace. And in reality, the process of implementing and following COSHH policy is much like any other health and safety process. The steps are:

  • Identify any hazards in the business, which will include any harmful substance including chemicals, gases, vapours, bacteria and more.
  • Determine who is at risk from these substances and how risk might arise.
  • Put measures into place that mitigate risk, such as ensuring handling processes are correct, controlling access, giving people the right training and protective equipment etc.

Where to Safety Data Sheets come in?

Safety data sheets, sometimes called COSHH data sheets, are ultimately designed to help people make the right decisions when it comes to assessing the risk of harmful substances, such as chemicals. They should generally be supplied with the substance, and are often found on packaging, such as on the back of the bottle. There are a few things that most safety data sheets should and will contain, including the following:

  • Hazards of the substance - Many hazard symbols present on a SDS will be familiar to many people. This will include things like warnings for skin irritation, corrosiveness, toxicity etc.
  • Handling information - It’s important to know how hazardous substances can be safely handled, such as which dispensers are suitable. This should be present on a SDS.
  • Storage information - Just like food, some substances will have expiry dates, which will need to be made clear. Some substances will also need to be stored at certain temperatures.
  • Emergency measures - Finally, data sheets should include helpful information for situations whereby the substance has caused harm, such as what to do if it gets in a person’s eyes.

SDS are not, under any circumstances, a replacement for a thorough risk assessment, which means the important takeaway of this article is that you should use a COSHH and SDS together. COSHH is essential when working with harmful substances, and SDS can help you make decisions about your COSHH policy.

Finding out more

It’s always worth being aware that, while SDS are intended to give clear details about the potential risks of an item, good knowledge is also needed alongside to ensure that the use of the substance is safe. That’s why a good level of training is important. Senior members of staff, and those responsible for health and safety should give training on certain substances - it’s no good relying purely on people to read the SDS.

Similarly, having a good overview of how COSHH works will be useful for many employees, and at Virtual College, we’re pleased to offer an e-learning course specifically designed to give people the essentials on this important aspect of workplace health and safety. Click here to be taken to the course page.


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