Why is COSHH Important in the Workplace?

Why is COSHH important in the Workplace?

COSHH, or the 2002 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health law, requires all members of staff to properly control potentially dangerous substances of all kinds in the workplace. This is to prevent any safety violations of individuals handling threatening chemicals at work or those around them.

COSHH states that any “substance hazardous to health”[1] must be accounted for and legislated against. This means that any substance likely to cause short – or long-term problems with well-being like excessively dusty or fumy air, metalworking fluids, and contact with wet cement can be harmful and are accounted for under the law. The law also includes any flammable or corrosive chemicals that may cause harm. Hazardous substances are damaging when they come into contact with skin and eyes, or when inhaled or swallowed. The regulations do not include all potentially dangerous materials like glue or paint, but it covers the most threatening ones and provisions for controlling them.


Why is COSHH Important?

The 2002 law is extremely important for employers and workplaces, as it ensures that risk assessments are carried out to identify potential threats, protects workers by controlling substance exposure and provides Information and training for all employees.


It Assesses Risk

All companies, regardless of the sector they are in, must carry out risk assessments in order to spot areas of danger and how to prepare for and reduce their effects. However, there are specialised COSHH assessments to prevent exposure to hazardous substances. The HSE have recommended numerous questions[2] to bear in mind when starting an assessment, including:

  • Are there any substances involved in your line of work that you are exposed to?
  • How would the substances in question damage the health of an employee?

The HSE have also compiled a list of some risk assessments[3] for employers working in different sectors to refer to including those in offices, DIY shops, electronics and paving companies. An assessment should guide future company policy and control measures to ensure safety in the workplace.


It Protects Employees from Health Risks

Under the law, if an organisation cannot effectively solve the problem initially after its discovery, then the substance and its potential effects must be controlled. Implementing controlling measures involves the use of Respiratory Protective Equipment[4] (RPE) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to minimise the effects of dangerous substances. Control procedures must consider the needs of your particular workplace and the safety of all staff members.

Health surveillance may be necessary when there is a specific disease linked to a particular substance i.e. asthma is associated with excessive fumes in the air. This involves “obtaining information about employees’ health”[5] and ensuring that controls used to counter the problem are working. If they aren’t, this is the time to design and implement new ones.


It Trains Employees in Company Safety Policy

Employers are duty-bound to provide training for all employees regarding hazardous substances. Training should focus on explaining what the problems at hand are following the risk assessment, the risk to well-being that the problem poses, and actions to take if something goes wrong i.e. a spill. If one control measure is to implement a time restriction on employees handling a particular material or substance, they must be informed of all the details. They must also be trained to safely use and maintain protective equipment. If any of these provisions change, the employer must give a new training course to cover the changes in procedure.

All members of staff should be able to access the information they are told during the training freely at all times. The kinds of documents they need access to include data safety sheets, which lay out the risks of exposure and give recommendations on how to safely handle and work with dangerous substances.


You can view our COSHH online training course here.


[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/l5.pdf

[2] http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/basics/whatdo.htm

[3] http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/riskassess/index.htm

[4] http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/rpe5.pdf

[5] http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/basics/surveillance.htm