Hazardous substances in the workplace

As a business owner do you know the rules around hazardous substances in the workplace? Here’s a snapshot of the main points that you should be aware of.

Risk assessment

If there is a risk of exposure to a hazardous substance in the workplace, then you will need to carry out a risk assessment under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH). This includes possible exposure from neighbouring businesses and not just from your own work processes.

Who does this apply to?

All parts of the COSHH regulations apply if you have employees. If you have no employees or are self-employed then all parts of the COSHH regulations will apply, apart from the duty to monitor exposure levels and have a possible health surveillance system in place.  

What is a hazardous substance?

It can be any of the following:

  • Chemicals
  • Dust
  • Fumes
  • Vapours
  • Mist
  • Gases
  • Biological agents, such as germs
  • Legionella

Does it apply to your industry?

The COSHH regulations are not just about using chemicals and so they apply to a whole range of different industries such as:

  • Hairdressing - products being used could cause dermatitis or allergies
  • Bakeries – working with flour causes dust clouds
  • Car garages – working with fuels and battery acid

What do you need to do?

  • Carry out a risk assessment to prevent staff from being exposed altogether, and if this is not possible you will need to take steps to adequately control exposure;
  • Consider if there are any workplace exposure limits in place. You will need to also then monitor the levels of exposure to ensure the limit is not exceeded;
  • Ensure any control measures put in place remain effective;
  • You may need to have health surveillance in place as well, if exposure to a substance could lead to a disease such as lung cancer;
  • Provide all staff with information and training on hazardous substances; and
  • Consider emergency procedures if there is an accident involving the substance.

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