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Last updated: 31.08.17

The COSHH Principles

Why is COSHH Important?

Hazardous substances can be present in workplaces in a wide variety of industries, from manufacturing, to food preparation, to healthcare. They can be fairly minor hazards such as cleaning products that might cause skin irritation, to more serious hazards such as chemicals that could cause death if used inappropriately. As a result, it’s extremely important that both employees and employers take the necessary precautions to control these substances.

What is COSHH?

COSHH (pronounced as ‘cosh’) is the framework and law that explains how employers must adhere to the Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health. In this article, we are going to discuss the basic principles of COSHH; what it covers, what your responsibilities are, and some tips on how you can go about following these requirements.

What does COSHH stand for?

COSHH stands for Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. This comprehensive set of regulations requires employers to limit and control exposure to hazardous substances. It also sets down how employers and employees should act in the event of an emergency.

At Virtual College, we offer a Compliance Training Package, which includes an Overview of COSHH. This may be useful for companies who want or need to train their employees in proper COSHH procedure.

What are Hazardous Substances?

There are a huge number of potential substances that could be considered hazardous, and they extend beyond easily recognisable chemicals. Generally, substances hazardous to health include the following:

  • Chemicals and products containing chemicals
  • Mists
  • Dusts
  • Vapours
  • Fumes
  • Gases
  • Disease-causing germs
  • Biological agents
  • Nanotechnology

These could occur in a wide range of environments, so vigilance is required.

Note that there are some hazardous substances that are not covered by COSHH because they have their own particular legal requirements. This includes asbestos, lead, and substances that are radioactive.

What are Your Responsibilities?

Important: COSHH training is essential for anyone who is responsible for the control of hazardous substances; this article is intended as a guide only.

The overall aim of COSHH is to reduce the risk of people, in particular employees, from coming into contact with hazardous substances. There are many different ways in which this can be carried out, which will be detailed in the next section. It is your legal responsibility to keep employees safe from harm while they are working by following the advice laid out in the statutory instrument; Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

Failure to adhere to these responsibilities can put employees at risk, and also carries with it legal repercussions. Both individuals and corporations can be held to account by the Health and Safety Executive.

Components of COSHH

There are numerous ways in which you can ensure your employees are safe when working in the same area as hazardous substances, and there is a process to follow.

Risk Assessment

Just as with all potential hazards in the workplace, a core component of COSHH is carrying out a risk assessment to determine exactly what hazards are present, and this is the very first thing that you must do. This is usually known as a COSHH Assessment, and The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) does have literature available to help employers understand exactly how this can be carried out. In short, it involves going round your place of work, and noting down all of the potentially hazardous substances contained within it, and where they might come into contact with employees.

Following the risk assessment, there are a variety of measures you can take to reduce the identified risk, including the following:

Substance Substitution

One of the simplest solutions to dealing with risk is to replace a hazardous substance with one that is not hazardous, or less hazardous. This could mean changing one cleaning fluid to a less dangerous one, or even swapping a powder for a liquid that can be stored, used and controlled more easily.

Limiting Exposure

In areas where it is essential to work with hazardous substances, measures should be taken to reduce that exposure where possible. This can include a great many measures, which deserve full documentation in their own right. Reducing the chance of exposure will include equipping employees with protective clothing, properly storing hazardous substances, and reducing the time spent carrying out potentially dangerous tasks.

Information Sheets

Some hazardous substances can be complex in their handling and storage needs, which means that it’s very important that employees can easily access data sheets that explain how they should use substances they’re working with. This is especially important if the substances are likely to come into contact with people unfamiliar with them.


Following on from the previous point, training and constant education should be carried out wherever possible to make sure that employees, and indeed, employers, know what they should do to reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous substances. Always have a structured training regime in place to ensure knowledge and skills do not lapse.

Dealing with Emergencies

As part of your COSHH procedure, you must also make provision for when things do not go according to plan. Accidents can and do happen, and in order to mitigate the impact when they occur, you should be prepared. Specific incidents can be planned for, which may include everything from providing first aid to those affected, to designating people that must call for the emergency services.

The above list is non-exhaustive; click here to find out more about the Virtual College COSHH Overview training for more detailed information.

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