The COSHH regulations provide legal guidance on how hazardous substances are used in the workplace. If you are not adhering to the rules as laid out by COSHH, then you could face significant fines or criminal charges.
Despite the widespread use of hazardous substances, many people are still unaware of the importance of COSHH and how to achieve compliance. We’ve outlined the key points here so you can gain an understanding of COSHH.
What Are the COSHH Regulations and Why Do They Matter for Your Business?
COSHH is an acronym for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. To ensure the safe handling, use and storage of any substance that is harmful, COSHH places a range of responsibilities on employers and employees. If you work with any hazardous substance, then by law your workplace must abide by the COSHH regulations.
The COSHH regulations stipulate that:
- Regular risk assessments of hazardous substances in the workplace must be undertaken
- Hazardous substances must be used as intended
- Hazardous substances must be stored correctly
- Use of hazardous substances must be avoided if at all possible
- If hazardous substances must be used, control measures to limit exposure must be implemented
- Control measures must be regularly reviewed
- Levels of exposure to hazardous substances must be regularly monitored
- Overall health of employees working with hazardous substances must be regularly monitored
- Emergency procedures to deal with accidents or spills must be developed
- Employees must receive information on all risks associated with hazardous materials
- Employees must be provided with relevant and adequate training on working with hazardous substances
Who is Responsible for COSSH Compliance in the Workplace?
Ultimately, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees, members of the public and self-employed persons on work premises. The responsibility for ensuring that COSHH regulations are followed in the workplace also lies solely with the employer. Individuals and corporations can both be held liable for breaching COSHH.
An employer can appoint an employee to act as a ‘competent person’ who can assess workplace risks and oversee COSHH regulations in the workplace.
To be considered competent, a person must have the knowledge, training and experience to be able to complete their duties adequately, according to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) guidelines. This does not, however, absolve the employer of their responsibilities or liability under COSHH.
The Duties of Employers Under COSHH
COSHH explicitly states that ‘Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.’
If the use of hazardous substances cannot be avoided, an employer must inform their employees of the risks involved. They must also perform regular risk assessments, implement measures to control risks and regularly conduct reviews of these control measures.
Employee Responsibilities Under COSHH
Employees also have legal duties under COSHH. The COSHH regulations stipulate that employees must ensure they fully understand the risks associated with hazardous substances. Employees must be able to correctly use any personal protective equipment (PPE), tools, and machinery and follow all control measures that are put in place. Employees must also perform their duties in a manner that does not put themselves, their colleagues or any members of the public at risk.
What Substances are Classified as Hazardous by COSHH?
Many different substances commonly used in workplaces are legally designated as being hazardous to health. A substance is defined as ‘any natural or artificial substance whether in solid or liquid form or in the form of a gas or vapour (including micro-organisms)’, according to the most recent COSHH Approved Code of Practice and guidance.
Substances that are covered by COSHH regulations include:
- Products that contain chemicals
- Asphyxiating gases
- Biological agents (germs)
Where Hazardous Substances Are Found in the Workplace
Hazardous substances can be stand-alone products such as chemicals or cleaning agents.
These substances must be labelled with COSHH symbols that identify the nature of the risks they pose. All commercial-grade products containing hazardous substances must come with a safety data sheet (SDS) that provides details on how to handle and store the substance.
Hazardous substances can also be produced by work processes, such as dust from grinding or cutting or gas from welding. Information on how to safely work with these substances can be gained from authorities such as the HSE.
What Substances are Not Covered By COSHH?
Not all types of hazardous substances are covered by COSHH regulations. COSHH does not provide guidelines on working with or near any materials that may contain asbestos, lead or materials that are radioactive. These substances are covered by the below pieces of legislation:
- The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
- The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002
- The Radioactive Substances Act 1993
- The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017
- The Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010
- The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016
Where Are COSHH Regulations Applicable?
COSHH regulations apply to any place where you or your employees are carrying out work. This may be your business premises, a work area outside or adjoining your place of business, or a work environment that is removed from your actual place of business.
The official COSHH definition of ‘workplace’ is ‘any premises or part of premises used for or in connection with work.’ This definition includes:
- Any areas on the premises that are accessible by employees
- Rooms, lobbies, corridors, staircases or roads (with the exclusion of public roads)
- Any other places used to access or egress a place of work
- Any facilities provided for use in connection with the place of work
Other Relevant Health and Safety Legislation
If you work with hazardous substances, then COSHH is not the only piece of health and safety legislation that you need to be aware of. Employers should make sure they are familiar with:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – This is the main piece of health and safety legislation in the UK
- The GB CLP Regulation – Provides guidelines on the labelling, packaging and classification of hazardous substances
- The UK REACH Regulation – Provides guidance on the regulation of chemicals in the UK
- The Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 – These regulations apply to all construction sites within the UK
Where to Learn More About COSHH Regulations
Any breach of COSHH regulations can result in a serious injury, death or a life-threatening health condition. If you are found to be guilty of breaching COSHH regulations, the penalties can include unlimited fines or imprisonment. COSHH training will ensure that you and your team have the skills to work with hazardous substances safely and stay within the law.
Human Focus offers affordable and effective COSHH training courses. Our COSHH course is certified and approved by respected UK health and safety authorities. The COSHH training course can be completed online at your convenience. This course will provide you with everything you need to know about COSHH principles and how to apply them in the workplace.