What is COSHH?

COSHH, known as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, are intended to protect people from ill health caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

The Regulations require employers to:

  • assess the risks to health and safety;
  • decide what precautions are needed to prevent ill health;
  • prevent or control exposure;
  • make sure that the control measures are used and maintained;
  • monitor exposure and carry out health surveillance if appropriate;
  • ensure that all employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.

What is a Hazardous Substance?

  • Chemicals - classified under 'Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations' and are identified by orange hazard warning symbols on the container e.g. very toxic, toxic, harmful, corrosive etc. Be careful with containers that are not marked!
  • Any substance that has been assigned a workplace exposure limit (previously Occupational Exposure Standard - OES's and Maximum Exposure Limit - MEL's).
  • Dusts can become hazardous in concentrations in air greater than 10 mg/m3 inhaled dust, or 4 mg/m3 of respirable dust.
  • Biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
  • Asphyxiants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
  • Carcinogens such as tobacco smoke or radon gas.

Routes of entry into the body

  • Inhalation - breathing in vapours, gasses, dusts and fumes.
  • Ingestion - eating or drinking substances or foods contaminated by hazardous substances.
  • On or through the skin - contact with the skin can cause harm to the skin or substances can be absorbed into the body through the skin causing harm to internal organs.
  • Eyes - contact with the eyes by fumes, vapours, liquids and dusts.
  • Injection - liquids, solids or gasses through the skin either by puncture wounds or through cuts.

Risk assessment

Some do's and don'ts

  • Don't simply rely on COSHH data sheets provided by suppliers. You should use this information to produce specific risk assessments for your activities using harmful substances.
  • Don't expect people to know that a substance is hazardous - it may not be obvious.
  • Don't ignore health concerns from staff e.g. rashes, allergies, asthma. Some people may be more affected than others.
  • Don't rely on personal protective equipment as the only means of control. It is the last line of defence.
  • Do identify all hazardous substances used.
  • Do ensure that the COSHH data sheets are received from the suppliers.
  • Do carry out risk assessment for each activity using hazardous substances.
  • Do implement control precautions and check that these are being followed.
  • Do contact Occupational Health if anyone starts to suffer ill health as a result of using a substance.
  • Do make sure that all people doing the activity are trained on the risk assessments. NB. staff carrying out tasks they don't normally do i.e. when covering for absence.
  • Do review risk assessments yearly or when circumstances change.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (amendment) Regulations 2004

These Regulations came into force partly on 17 January 2005 and the remainder on 6 April 2005. They amend the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (and the Chemicals [Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply] Regulations 2002 and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002).

The existing requirements to follow good practice are now clarified and brought together by the introduction of eight principles that will apply regardless of whether a substance has a Workplace Exposure Limit.

The principles are:

  • Design and operate processes and activities to minimise emission, release and spread of substances hazardous to health.
  • Take into account all relevant routes of exposure – inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion – when developing control measures.
  • Control exposure by measures that are appropriate to the health risk.
  • Choose the most effective and reliable control options which minimise the escape and spread of substances hazardous to health.
  • Where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, provide, in combination with other control measures, suitable personal protective equipment.
  • Check and review regularly all elements of control measures for their continuing effectiveness.
  • Inform and train all employees on the hazards and risks from the substances with which they work and the use of control measures developed to minimise the risks.
  • Ensure that the introduction of control measures does not increase the overall risk to health and safety.

The regulations also introduce a single type of exposure limit, now called Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) which replace the Occupational Exposure Standards (OES) and Maximum Exposure Limits (MEL). As the numerical values of the previous limits being transferred to the new system are unchanged, suppliers may exhaust stocks of safety data sheets that refer to MELs and OESs before producing new ones that refer to WELs. Similarly, COSHH assessment can be updated during periodic reviews.

What does this mean to the University?

As COSHH is already well established throughout the University the effect of these Regulations should be fairly small. However, departments that use hazardous substances should:

  • Apply the eight principles of good practice for the control of substances hazardous to health.
  • Ensure that the WEL is not exceeded (monitoring may be required).
  • Ensure that the exposure to substances that can cause occupational asthma, cancer or genetic damage is reduced as low as is reasonably practicable.
  • Review COSHH risk assessments within a reasonable period of time (suggest annually).