The law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent illness. They must protect their employees and others who may be exposed to the hazardous substances, by complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). COSHH sets seven guidelines that employers, and sometimes employees, must take to ensure the safety when using hazardous substances.
The employer must assess the risks to health arising from hazardous substances used in or created by the workplace activities, such as surgery. They must also identify the hazardous substances present in the workplace and consider the risks these substances pose to people’s health.
Employers must decide what precautions are needed. Staff must not carry out work which could expose them to hazardous substances without taking the necessary precautions to make sure that they comply with COSHH. If significant risks are identified then the employer must decide on the action needed to take place to remove or reduce the risk to acceptable levels.
Employers should prevent or adequately control employee’s exposure to hazardous substances. This means that they must prevent employees being exposed to hazardous substances and where this is not reasonably practicable, then they must adequately control it so that it doesn’t pose a risk. The employer could change the task so that the hazardous substance isn’t needed or replace it with a safer alternative. This could mean using a safer form, such as pellets instead of powder for certain chemicals.
Employers must ensure that the control measures are used and maintained properly and that safety procedures are followed by their employees. Employees must make proper use of the control measures and to report defects as soon as possible. Therefore, they must be given appropriate training, information and suitable super vision
Employers must monitor the exposure of employees to hazardous substances. They must measure the concentration of hazardous substances in the air inhales by employees. This should be monitored in areas where there could be serious risks to health if control measures already in place failed, exposure limits might be exceeded, or control measures might not be appropriate. Air monitoring must also be carried out when employees are exposed to substances specified in Schedule 5 of the COSHH Regulations. The air should be sampled around the employee’s face from where their breath is taken. This is their breathing zone. The employer must keep a record of any exposure monitoring carried out for at least five years.
Employers should carry out appropriate health investigations if the assessment has shown that this is necessary, or where COSHH sets specific requirements. COSHH requires employers to carry out health surveillance, where an employee is working in one of the processes listed in Schedule 6 of COSHH, (manufacture of certain compounds of benzene), where employees are exposed to a substance linked to a particular disease or adverse health effect. Health investigations may involve examination by a doctor or trained nurse or in some cases trained super visors could, ask questions about breathing difficulties where a task involves substances that are known to cause asthma. Employers must keep a record of any health investigations carried out and COSHH requires these to be kept for at least 40 years.
The employer must ensure that employees are properly informed, trained and supervised. This should include: the nature of the substances they are exposed to, the risks from being exposed to those substances and the precautions that they should take. Employers should provide them appropriate information and instructions about the control measures, their purpose, how to use them, how to use PPE provided, results of any exposure monitoring and health surveillance and the emergency procedures in case of an emergency.