Last updated: 03.10.23

The Safe Handling of Chemicals in the Workplace

The safe use of chemicals isn’t something that many workers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But in some industries, it is an everyday concern. 

Consider the number of chemicals that healthcare staff, manufacturing workers and even cleaners come into contact with regularly. These chemicals can pose serious health risks even in small quantities, so it’s very important that they are used and stored properly.

Most chemicals, particularly those involved in cleaning, aren’t particularly dangerous but can cause nasty rashes, whereas certain chemicals used incorrectly can be life-threatening. The main piece of legislation that advises on the safest way to handle these chemicals and the products that contain them is COSHH, which stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health.

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the main things that need to be considered when handling chemicals at work and how these relate to COSHH regulations.

Who Enforces COSHH Legislation?

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive publishes the COSHH regulations. Anything to do with handling potentially dangerous chemicals at work is covered under this law. 

COSHH guidelines are extensive, so if you’re in any doubt, it’s these regulations that you should consult, along with any instructions that come with the chemicals you’re using.

What Does COSHH Cover?

COSHH is all about controlling the exposure of people to harmful chemicals, and there are many ways to go about this. This includes using the proper equipment to do the job, having the correct processes in place, and ensuring that people follow those processes correctly.

One of the main elements of COSHH is substitution. This is where you look to see if you can avoid using hazardous substances in the first place. In many instances, this won’t be possible, but consider that many cleaning products could potentially be swapped for something non-hazardous, or less hazardous.

These are the three main elements involved in the safe handling, storage and disposal of chemicals. If you are dealing with chemicals as part of your job, then bear these in mind.


The safe handling of chemicals is a hugely broad subject, but there are a few different ways in which it can be achieved. 

The first is by using the right equipment. Often, this will mean wearing appropriate protective gear, such as gloves or masks that will prevent the chemicals coming in direct contact with your skin. It may also mean using specialist tools and handling machinery. 

Processes are very important too – a risk assessment should be done to help in deciding how people can carry out the job safely, which minimises the contact between chemicals and a person. There are guidelines for handling certain types of chemicals, and all products will also come with suitable warnings on them, which will inform the way they should be used.


Storing chemicals safely is just as important as handling them correctly. Having a dedicated place in which they’re kept will be essential in many cases: manufacturing facilities might have an entire room, whereas a cleaner might have a particular cupboard. 

Very dangerous chemicals should not be allowed to mix or be at risk from spillage or damage. Anything potentially flammable must be kept out of the way of any fire hazards as well.

Security is important too – certain chemicals that are particularly dangerous should be kept locked away so that they aren’t found and used by anyone with harmful intentions.


Hazardous waste regulations are separate from COSHH, and generally, businesses will need to have a dedicated place in which they store hazardous chemicals that are going to be disposed of because they must not be mixed. 

Dedicated disposal companies are usually brought in to remove chemicals so that they can be safely kept out of water systems or other areas in which they could pose a continued danger. Some council-run recycling centres also have facilities for commercial chemical disposal, particularly for less dangerous ones such as cleaning products.

What are the Dangers Caused by COSHH Chemicals?

The dangers posed by COSHH chemicals can cause both short and long-term health complications. There are varying degrees of harm they can cause, with some substances creating damage to the skin and eyes such as burns. 

Inhalation or exposure to these chemicals may also cause asthma, lung damage and other respiratory problems. Skin allergies are most commonly reported from workers who have been exposed to chemicals, alongside other external health issues such as contact dermatitis. 

COSHH risk assessments will help identify any potential dangers and ensure those dealing with these substances can do so safely. Personal protective equipment should also be used to ensure that employees are given the necessary supplies to protect against harm from chemicals at work.

The Do’s and Don'ts of Handling Chemicals

It is important to know the dos and don’ts when handling hazardous chemicals. This will help minimise potential risks, allowing everyone to work in a safe environment. 

Below are some of the things that should and shouldn’t be done when working with harmful substances. 

What You Should Do When Handling Chemicals 

  1. Keep chemicals stored in a clean, cool and dry environment.
  2. Make sure that chemicals are kept in the original container. 
  3. Ensure that chemicals are stored safely to prevent access by vulnerable people. 
  4. Always read the labels and follow the instructions. 
  5. Create a workplace with proper ventilation. 
  6. Use personal protective equipment where required. 
  7. Wash hands and practise good hand care, especially after handling harmful chemicals. 
  8. Know the procedures and what to do if harmful substances are accidentally spilt on yourself or someone else. 
  9. Report any damaged containers, spills or potential dangers. 
  10. Clean up spills right away. 

What You Should Not Do When Handling Chemicals 

  1. Never mix chemical products. 
  2. Do not use or ask someone else to use chemicals that they are not trained to use safely. 
  3. Don’t leave chemicals unsupervised or left out, they should always be stored away properly. 
  4. Don’t store chemicals in unlabelled containers or use different containers than they originally came in. 
  5. Never place heavy containers on high shelves. 


What risks can chemicals cause? 

There are several serious health risks that harmful chemicals can pose, including asthma, cancer and other diseases. There are also some long-term effects associated with these such as lung damage and skin conditions or allergies. 

You may feel the side effects instantly, or they may take longer to show, which is why it is so important to follow guidelines under COSHH to minimise these dangers. 

Where are chemicals found at work?

Chemicals can be found in many places at work and are also present in a variety of industries. From shops to factories, laboratories, offices, at home, in the garden and an office, hazardous substances can be in any workplace. 

These might be used for your work, for machinery or cleaning and the level of danger they pose will vary depending on the type of chemical you are using. However, these harmful contaminants aren’t just in the form of chemicals; they can also be things like dust, gases, mist and much more. 

It is important to assess all risks when working with substances that can cause harm, whether that be by direct contact or inhalation. 

What can I do to protect myself from chemicals at work? 

There are different ways by which you can protect yourself from chemicals at work. Necessary measures should however be taken by the employer to ensure the safety of all those working with harmful substances. 

Things like control equipment, ways of working and worker behaviours should all be taken into consideration when protecting yourself from hazards at work. Personal protective equipment and COSHH regulations should also be followed to ensure these risks are managed effectively. 


Following the proper protocols will help avoid the potential risks associated with harmful substances and chemicals, along with adhering to regulations set by the HSE. These rules are essential for safeguarding employees and providing a secure working environment for all. 

If you’d like to know more about the safe handling of chemicals at work, check out our online COSHH Training Course which offers a great introduction to best practices. Alternatively, for more on health and safety at work, take a look at our Health and Safety training courses, which includes several courses that deal with safe handling procedures in the workplace.