COSHH Legislation and Regulations Explained
Worldwide, there are roughly 160 million victims of work-related illnesses every year. Data from the Health and Safety Executive revealed that in the UK, 13,000 deaths are estimated to happen each year which are associated with previous exposure at work, largely to dust or chemicals.
Due to these work-related illnesses, millions of days off are lost in workplaces around the globe for reasons that, in many cases, are avoidable. This is why, more than ever, health and safety in the workplace is important by identifying and mitigating risks to protect employee wellbeing.
There are multiple regulations in place in the UK to protect the health and safety of employees, the most famous of which is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. But there are also more specific laws and regulations in place with the role of regulating particular aspects of workplace functioning in order to protect employees from harm.
In this article, we delve into one of these legislations in detail, known as COSHH, in order to explain this particular law and its regulations to help employers and employees understand why it is important and necessary to comply with in the workplace.
COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health and comes from the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. The COSHH 2022 legislation is a law that ensures that there is a framework in place which employers must follow so that their employees’ exposure to health hazardous substances is prevented or controlled where possible.
COSHH is an important health and safety consideration that many businesses will have to take into account. Substances that can pose a risk to health can be found in nearly all workplaces, including:
Iit is crucial that all employers consider how their workplace may harbour hazardous substances and follow COSHH legislation and regulations accordingly.
COSHH legislation defines a hazard as something with the potential to cause harm. These are typically substances and can contaminate or infect the human body through a number of ways, including inhalation, ingestion, skin and eye contact, or punctures and injection through the skin.
This will vary depending on the form of the substance and the effects that they can cause, whether this happens immediately in an allergic reaction or slowly over time due to prolonged exposure.
Specific hazardous substances covered by the COSHH regulations include:
There are some specific hazardous substances that are not covered by COSHH, which include:
This is because these substances have their own specific requirements and regulations.
Hazardous substances can be found everywhere, from specialist production lines to machinery emissions and basic cleaning products. As a result, it’s essential that they are controlled to ensure that people are safe when they’re at work.
In short, any business that uses substances that may be hazardous to health is obligated to control their associated risk to employees. This is partly a responsibility given by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, a primary legislative piece that regulates and enforces workplace health and safety in Great Britain.
However, COSHH legislation also grants this responsibility to businesses as it solely focuses on harmful substances in the workplace and how to eliminate and reduce their health risks.
The COSHH legislation has a number of step-by-step procedures and guidelines that need to be actioned in order to protect employees from ill health in the workplace. We’ve broken down these required methods below in order to highlight the steps employers must take in order to protect their workers’ health.
The first step to take in actioning COSHH procedures is identifying what the specific health hazards may be in your workplace.
For example, if you are working in the construction industry, cement-based products can pose a risk to employees’ health as they can cause skin conditions such as dermatitis. Equally, lead is often still found in older buildings which, if breathed in, can lead to serious health conditions.
This is the step in which employees must make a detailed risk assessment in order to identify what substances may cause harm to those within a workplace, identify the danger they may pose, and seek out precautions to put in place.
There may be some substances that only present a low risk, such as small quantities of cleaning products, or there may be other substances that are present in higher quantities that are evaluated to pose a high risk.
These findings must be recorded if the business employs more than five people in order to take actions to minimise any risks to employee health, as well as any individuals who often come into the workplace, such as temporary workers or contractors.
Once risks have been identified that may harm to the health of employees in the workplace, employers should implement suitable control measures with the purpose of mitigating or reducing the harmful impacts of these hazardous substances.
These control measures must be effective enough to ideally prevent hazardous substances, as outlined by the COSHH legislation, to cause any harm to employees. For example, a way that employers may do this is by providing all employees with personal protective equipment (PPE).
This refers to the actions taken to prevent employees from being exposed to any hazardous substances as outlined by the COSHH legislation, if this is reasonably practicable to carry out. In considering this, it may be that employers change their activities in order to stop any hazardous substances from being produced in the workplace or replace them with safer alternatives.
This step involves making sure that employees are properly using the control measures put in place and that they are also reporting any issues that they may be having with these processes. Employers must also ensure that these control measures are in good working order, as this will ensure that they continue to function in the future to protect the health of employees later down the line.
It is within an employer's responsibility to ensure that their employees are following control measures appropriately. Therefore, training should be delivered to educate employees on the importance of performing control measures properly.
Under the COSHH legislation, employers are required to measure the amount and concentration of hazardous substances in the air that are inhaled by employees. This is only in cases where a risk assessment has revealed that there may be severe risks to health if control methods fail or deteriorate, or if control measures do not function efficiently.
However, this is not necessary if employers can prove that they are presenting or controlling their employees’ exposure to hazardous substances.
Equally, health surveillance is necessary in the case that an employee is exposed to one of the COSHH hazardous substances, as per Schedule 6 of the legislation, and there is a likelihood that negative health effects or disease will result from this exposure. Health surveillance can involve being examined by a trained medical professional, and records of this must be kept and updated accordingly.
Finally, this section involves employers being prepared for an emergency with the necessary protective equipment, products, and procedures in place in order to deal with the situation and any casualties accordingly. This will require trained individuals within the business to give first aid and deal with any waste created.
Ultimately, the COSHH legislation means that you must take all of the above necessary steps to ensure that your employees are not harmed by hazardous substances in the workplace. Failure to comply with COSHH law can mean action from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and this can be especially serious if an accident occurs that could have been prevented with proper COSHH consideration.
There are additional pieces of legislation to be aware of alongside the COSHH. The EH40/2005 Workplace Exposure Limits, for example, contain documentation that explains the legally defined exposure limits for 31 common and dangerous substances.
It’s up to you to fully understand all of the substances you’re working with and implement the necessary precautions. Businesses that actually produce or transport dangerous substances have additional legal obligations tangential to COSHH, and these must be fully understood also.
COSHH can be a complex subject and, as with all health and safety considerations, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Those who are new to the concept should consider taking training to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the subject. At Virtual College by Netex, we offer a large number of workplace health and safety courses, including dedicated COSHH training.
This easily digestible online training course allows you to learn at any time from anywhere and explore COSHH in more detail thanks to interactive and engaging content curated by experts.
Alternatively, if you need specific information about a particular substance or your obligations, then the HSE should be your first point of call.
Any UK business which fails to adhere to and comply with health and safety laws and regulations faces a fine of any amount that the court deems to be adequate and proportionate to the offence committed. This may also lead to imprisonment as the punishment, in some cases.
COSHH itself is a piece of legislation with the purpose of regulating the way that employers approach health and safety surrounding hazardous substances for the benefit of employee wellbeing.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK is responsible for enforcing health and safety within UK workplaces, alongside local authorities who operate on a regional level with these shared objectives and requirements.
For all those operating in a workplace environment that has, uses, or produces hazardous substances, it is critical that you have a basic understanding of what COSHH is and therefore follow its specified procedures for the benefit of all those operating within a workplace. We hope that this article has offered you the insight that you need as an employer, or employee, to understand the importance of COSHH in your workplace and how you can specifically eliminate and control any risks of harmful substances to health.
To gain a basic understanding of COSHH for safe operations in the workplace, we offer a ‘COSHH Training’ online course which includes an overview of all the legal requirements that employers and employees must comply with.