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COSHH - Hazardous Substances

Using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put people's health at risk. So the law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health.

Exposure to hazardous substances at work affects the health of many thousands of people. Examples of the effects include lung disease due to dusty conditions, skin irritation, dermatitis or skin cancer, occupational asthma (e.g. sensitisation to isocyanates in paints or adhesives), toxic fumes etc. The cost to employers can be significant due to loss of earnings, loss of productivity, prosecution and civil action amongst others.

The COSHH Regulations 2002 (as amended)

COSHH (The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations) is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. You can prevent or reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances by:

  • finding out what the health hazards are;
  • deciding how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment[1]);
  • providing control measures to reduce harm to health;
  • making sure they are used ;
  • keeping all control measures in good working order;
  • providing information, instruction and training for employees and others;
  • providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases;
  • planning for emergencies.

COSHH lays down a sensible step-by-step approach to the necessary precautions and is therefore a useful tool of good management. The potential for identifiable cost benefits (e.g. tighter control over the use and storage of materials), improved morale and industrial relations have been widely realised.

COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health. Exceptions include asbestos and lead (which have their own regulations) and substances which are hazardous only because they are radioactive, asphyxiants, at high pressure/temperature or have explosive/flammable properties.

COSHH requires the following:-

  • assessment of the risks
  • deciding what precautions are needed
  • prevention or control of the risks
  • ensuring that control measures are used and maintained
  • monitoring exposure and health surveillance, where necessary
  • informing, instructing and training employees about the risks and precautions needed.

Further Information

Updated: 27 Mar 2018
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