COSHH Risk Assessment for Schools: Requirements and Guidance
Health and safety is a primary concern for employees in all types of environments. Whether in an office, care home, or on a construction site, taking precautions and following necessary procedures to ensure the health of all those within a workplace is critical in the day-to-day running of any business.
Schools are another environment in which health and safety are crucial focus points. Schools should be places that are safe for both pupils and staff members, and a lot of hard work must go into making sure that this is the case.
Risk assessments are very common in school environments. From PE lessons to school trips, they analyse the potential risks that may come into play and how these can be minimised.
One risk assessment in particular, known as the COSHH risk assessment, needs to be executed within schools. It concerns the use and handling of hazardous substances within an educational environment and the risks they can pose to students and staff members.
For those who are unsure what a COSHH risk assessment is, and how it is applicable and important in a school environment, this article sheds light on this subject alongside explaining the importance of COSHH assessments, the principles of COSHH, and the key COSHH risk assessment steps.
COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. It’s a set of regulations and procedures that ensure people in environments that use, produce, or handle hazardous substances are kept safe. It provides a framework in the UK that employers and employees follow in order to protect themselves and others.
COSHH is connected to legislation outlined and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) throughout the UK, making it a legal responsibility for employers to adhere to. In schools, COSHH is important to consider for the safety of students and staff and its guidelines and procedures must be followed appropriately in necessary situations to do this adequately.
A risk assessment for COSHH involves identifying and assessing the hazards and risks that are associated with a hazardous substance in a working environment. As part of performing COSHH risk assessments, individuals will make active efforts to prevent, mitigate, and eliminate the harm that these materials may cause to individuals. In a school, this includes risks to children, staff and any visitors.
COSHH assessments utilise information from safety data sheets, which hold information about a hazardous substance that is normally provided by its supplier and details the substances’ chemical composition alongside other information. This information then helps in executing the control procedures of COSHH regulations and therefore prevents harm from coming to those dealing with hazardous substances. There are a number of steps involved in a COSHH risk assessment, which we go into further detail about later.
A COSHH risk assessment is essential in order to identify the risks that may be associated with hazardous substances. This is critical in any environment in which hazardous substances are present, are created, or are being handled. Particularly in schools where there’s such a large number of students and staff present, it’s all the more critical that COSHH risk assessments are carried out properly in order to protect the health of these individuals.
Hazardous substances are more common than in school environments you might think.
Examples of COSHH hazardous substances are cleaning products, which can pose dangers that many aren’t aware of and they’re used extensively in schools. However, the more obvious hazards in schools will be those present in science labs or even produced by the design and technology department.
What does COSHH identify as hazardous substances exactly? Examples of hazardous substances included in the COSHH regulations are:
Below, we’ve outlined some of the hazardous substances that you may find in a school environment, based on where you might find them.
D&T classrooms may utilise or produce hazardous substances such as those mentioned above. Examples of COSHH hazardous substances that may be found in D&T classrooms may include dust, which could be produced from processes such as sanding or sawing, as well as solvent-based liquids.
Ensuring that these hazardous substances are handled with care and that the necessary protective equipment and clothing (PPE) are worn will help prevent any of these substances from causing immediate or long-term harm. Prolonged exposure to these types of hazardous materials is a particular threat to teachers and technicians who handle the substances regularly.
School science laboratories are known to have hazardous and potentially dangerous chemicals. These chemicals may be harmful if they are irritants with the potential to cause irritation to the skin from direct contact, or to the eyes and mouth from their fumes. Equally, some substances may be a hazard when mixed with other reactive substances, or can be toxic to the touch or if inhaled.
It is therefore critical that both teachers and students are aware of the necessary procedures and precautions to follow in line with the COSHH 2002 legislation. PPE is an important aspect of operating in school laboratories, and so this should always be worn when handling these substances. Supervision is also critical to ensure children are handling these substances safely at all times.
In all areas of schools, cleaning products are used. In some cases, these may be hazardous, especially if they are improperly used or left unattended and accessible to children.
Many schools source cleaners externally, which makes it difficult to comply with COSHH regulations as it is out of the school’s control as to whether cleaners are adequately trained in line with COSHH guidelines.
It is critical that all cleaners are aware of the hazards that many cleaning products can pose and how they should use these properly in school environments. This includes ensuring these substances may not come into direct contact with skin if they are irritants, and that substances are kept out of reach from others at all times when they’re not in use.
When it comes to COSHH, risk assessments can sometimes be quite detailed, so it may therefore be helpful to use a COSHH risk assessment template.
A COSHH risk assessment should be comprehensive and should include three main steps to carrying this out which are as follows.
Finding and identifying any substances that may be hazardous to health is the first critical step in a COSHH risk assessment. Make sure that you’re comprehensive in your identification, and bear in mind that not all hazards will be present all of the time.
Science lab stores may be easy to check, but contracted cleaners may bring in their own products onto premises that are not kept on site. This is why it is important that cleaning products should be checked by a qualified member of staff if they are not provided by the school, and that cleaners have completed a comprehensive COSHH training course.
Once you have a good idea of all the potential risks within your school, you need to decide how the risk might present itself. Cleaning products, for instance, are unlikely to be encountered by pupils, but what if they were? Similarly, are the cleaners at risk of regularly using harmful cleaning products?
Knowing where these risks may come into play and how they can cause harm to individuals is the next essential step in your COSHH risk assessment.
Once the risks, and those at risk, have been established, the COSHH assessment will call for hazard prevention. This means putting in place measures that are designed to mitigate or stop each individually-identified hazard.
For example, the most common measure taken will be to ensure that all hazardous substances are locked away, and can only be accessed by trained staff. Alternatively, measures might include ensuring those at risk have the right protective equipment, such as goggles in the science lab or cleaning gloves.
Nearly all schools within the UK will have several hazardous substances stored or used in their buildings, which may be concentrated in some particular areas of the school environment more than others. Therefore, it is essential that all schools carry out a COSHH risk assessment and that employers and employees are equally aware of the risks within the school and how they can be managed to protect the health of everyone.
Both employees and employers in schools have their own responsibilities for protecting the health and safety of themselves and others. We’ve briefly outlined these below:
COSHH policies outline the responsibilities and roles that need to be adopted in order to adhere to COSHH guidelines for all staff members and employers within a school. This will outline details about COSHH risk assessments, and emergency procedures in the event of an accident involving a hazardous substance, amongst other guidance.
As COSHH is a legal requirement, and health and safety issues are of paramount importance, you should always consider formal training to ensure that you and your employees are fully clued up on how COSHH can be adhered to and how its risk assessments can be implemented.
If you’re looking for COSHH training, our COSHH Training Course was designed by our team at Virtual College by Netex to offer employers, and employees, the knowledge they need of COSHH, its risk assessments, and procedures to protect the well-being of all in a workplace.
Bleach is a substance that is included in COSHH-outlined hazardous substances. This is due to the chemical properties of bleach and the physical symptoms it can inflict if individuals come into direct contact with it or do not use adequate protective clothing when handling it. This includes irritation to the eyes and burns on the skin.
Originally, the COSHH regulations were introduced in 1988 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This has since grown from this early legislative piece to its current version, known as The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
COSHH was introduced in order to improve the legislation of workplace health and safety and is an important formal legislative piece enforced to focus on hazardous substances specifically. Without it, it’s likely that workplace accidents and injuries relating to the use and handling of hazardous substances would increase across the UK.
COSHH and its procedures are of paramount importance to consider in school environments for the safety of employers, staff, students, and visitors. Hazardous substances can be present in all different areas of schools, so it's critical that all those in this environment are aware of the risk they pose and how these risks can be mitigated to prevent any harm from coming to these individuals.
Our COSHH Training Course is essential for all workplaces dealing with hazardous substances and is designed to offer the knowledge and understanding that employers and employees need to understand COSHH in more detail, why it is important in schools, and identify and mitigate any existing risks.