Employers and employees both have a responsibility to identify and reduce potential risks - and carrying out a COSHH assessment is a key part.
A COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessment is necessary if there are potentially hazardous substances in the workplace.
However, you may not even be aware of some hazardous substances, or know that they are hazardous - but this article will give you a clearer understanding of your responsibilities.
Keep reading to learn all about COSHH, health and safety responsibilities, and the key steps to becoming COSHH compliant.
What Is COSHH?
COSHH is a law that requires employers to identify and control any hazardous substances that could affect the health and safety of employees and any visitors to the workplace.
Many various industries use substances or create substances that can be harmful to employees, customers, contractors, and visitors. Some can be easily identifiable but others may be more difficult to identify.
Some examples of common harmful substances may include bleach, paint, and even dust from natural materials.
At Beaconrisk, we offer COSHH e-learning courses for you to enhance your knowledge.
The Health and safety of a workplace is typically the responsibility of the employer - employers have numerous responsibilities regarding COSHH laws.
One of the main responsibilities of an employer is to prevent and control the exposure of hazardous and potentially hazardous substances. Part of this may involve provisioning PPE (personal protective equipment) to reduce potential exposure.
Control measures must be put into place when dealing with or working around hazardous substances, and be regularly updated to ensure that the environment is safe.
Employers should ensure that employees are educated, trained and informed about the risks involved in working with hazardous substances, as well as how to prevent risk.
There should be procedures in place in the case that accidents or emergencies occur in the workplace. To prevent risk, employers should ensure that employees that are exposed to or work with hazardous substances are under suitable supervision.
Employers should also ensure that COSHH risk assessments are completed when necessary. The use of hazardous substances should never exceed the WEL (Workplace Exposure Limit), and it’s the employer’s duty to ensure this.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides more information on Employer's Responsibilities.
It’s not just the employer that has COSHH responsibilities. It’s the responsibility of the employees to ensure that all tasks are carried out in a safe manner to ensure that risks are reduced and the health and safety of themselves and others are protected.
Employees should assist their fellow staff members to create a safe working environment, whether it be by offering support or encouraging others to abide by the H&S and COSHH regulations.
Employees should follow all procedures that have been put in place by the employer or senior members of staff to prevent accidents and overexposure to hazardous substances.
It’s also an employee’s duty to ensure they’re wearing the relevant PPE and then store it correctly and safely when they’re not in use.
Some more employee responsibilities in terms of COSHH include reporting accidents, attending check-ups when needed, cleaning in line with procedures, and keeping up to date with relevant training.
The HSE and TUC have published a guide with more information on your responsibilities, rights and what you should expect from your employer.
The COSHH assessment is made up of 5 different steps - collecting information on the substances, evaluating the risks, selecting appropriate control measures, recording your findings and implementing them, and monitoring performance.
You’ll need to collect information about potentially hazardous substances in your workplace, including chemicals, products that contain chemicals, fumes, mists, dust, vapours, gases, and microorganisms such as larvae.
You’ll also have to evaluate the risks to health - considering the likelihood of risk, how often the exposure is likely to occur, how long you’ll be exposed to the hazardous substance, and how likely the substance is to cause harm.
Don’t just consider the work day - think about cleaning procedures and maintenance, as well as any potential releases or spillages.
Once you’ve identified the hazards and considered the risk of exposure, it’s time to select appropriate control measures - essentially deciding how you’ll reduce or eliminate the risk.
This involved prioritising - ask yourself which hazards are more serious, and which hazards are the most immediate risks. Also, consider how easily or quickly you’ll be able to get the hazard under control.
Always prioritise the hazards which post the most serious health and safety risk - don’t ignore these over the risks that are more immediate, or the risks that are the easiest to control.
Legally, you’re required to record any results of COSHH assessments if you have more than five employees. However, it’s recommended to record them anyway to protect the health and safety of the employees. Record the hazards, precautions you’ve taken, and the reasoning behind them.
Be sure to regularly monitor the COSHH assessment to ensure that your control measures are still relevant and ultimately still effective. Review your assessment if an accident occurs or if the work circumstances change, for example, if you have new processes or equipment, or you’ve introduced new substances.