The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) Regulations requires the management of risks associated with substances in use or otherwise affecting the workplace if they are deemed to be ‘hazardous to health’.
CoSHH doesn’t cover lead, asbestos or radioactive substances because these have their own specific regulations.
What is a hazardous substance?
Hazardous substances can take many forms and include:
- products containing chemicals
- biological agents (i.e., germs)
There are five main ‘routes of exposure’ to hazardous substances:
- Inhalation. Once breathed in, some substances can attack the nose, throat or lungs while others get into the body through the lungs and harm other parts of the body, e.g. the liver.
- Ingestion. People transfer chemicals from their hands to their mouths by eating, smoking etc., without washing first.
- Skin contact. Some substances damage skin, while others pass through it and damage other parts of the body. Skin can get contaminated by direct contact with the substance, (e.g. if you touch it or dip your hands in it); by splashing; by substances landing on the skin, (e.g. airborne dust); or by contact with contaminated surfaces – this includes contact with contamination inside protective gloves.
- Skin puncture. Health risks from skin puncture such as butchery or needle-stick injuries are rare but can involve infections or very harmful substances, (e.g. drugs).
- Eyes. Some vapours, gases and dusts are irritating to the eyes. Caustic fluid splashes can damage eyesight permanently.
Principles of Good Control Practice
The CoSHH Regulations define the principles of good control practice for hazardous substances as follows:
- 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;
- Ensure control measures are proportionate to the health risk;
- Choose the most effective and reliable control options to minimise the escape and spread of hazardous substances;
- Where adequate control cannot be achieved by other means, provide, in combination with other control measures, suitable personal protective equipment (PPE);
- Check and regularly review control measures to ensure their continuing effectiveness;
- Inform and train all employees on the hazards and risks and the control measures developed to minimise the risks; and
- Ensure that the introduction of control measures does not increase the overall risk to health and safety.
If several control measures are implemented, steps should be taken to ensure they all work together.