COSHH – What Are Your Employer’s Responsibilities?

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LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott
Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott In: Industrial Disease

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. There are regulations put in place to cover employers’ responsibilities to safeguard employees against exposure to any substance deemed hazardous to health.

What constitutes a COSHH substance is far-reaching and includes fumes, vapours, gasses and dusts. It also includes any substance that, when used at work, may pose a risk to one’s health.  This can act as a “catch all” so employers are advised to consider the COSHH guidelines and whether they are relevant in all possible circumstances.

Your Employer’s Responsibilities

The main relevant regulations are the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

These regulations place a duty on the employer to consider if there is potential exposure to a COSHH substance. Once this has been determined by an employer there are various steps they must undertake in order to ensure they are complying with the regulations and ensuring their employee’s safety, as much as they can.

The main requirements are;

  • Risk assessments – considering what risks are posed by the exposure, how significant these risks are and the effectiveness of any control measures that are in place.
  • Preventing exposure – what steps can be taken to prevent exposure all together. This could include using an alternative substance or changing a process.
  • Controlling exposure – this includes consideration of ventilation and appropriate PPE.
  • Monitoring exposure – such as air quality checks or ventilation checks.
  • Providing appropriate health surveillance – this is usually done by a health professional at regular intervals.
  • Providing appropriate information and training – this could include information/training on the substance itself, the process in which it is used or the control measures/PPE in place.

Preventing exposure in the first instance should always be the first consideration of the employer. Appropriate control measures, such as PPE, should only be considered if preventing exposure is not possible.

Employers should also consider the Principles of Good Practice. These are;

  1. Design and operate processes and activities to minimise emission, release and spread of substances hazardous to health.
  2. Take into account all relevant routes of exposure- inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion- when developing control measures.
  3. Control exposure by measures that are proportionate to the health risk
  4. Choose the most effective and reliable control options which minimise the escape and spread of substances hazardous to health.
  5. Where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, provide, in combination with other control measures, suitable personal protective equipment.
  6. Check and review regularly all elements of control measures for their continuing effectiveness.
  7. Inform and train all employees on the hazards and risks from the substances with which they work and the use of control measures developed to minimise the risks.
  8. Ensure that the introduction of control measures does not increase the overall risk to health and safety.

What You Can Do as an Employee

There are various steps employees can take to ensure that they are contributing to a safe working environment.

These steps may fall into the general process of the work and be included in documents such as a Safe System of Work document or a Risk Assessment.

There are also proactive things employees can do to protect themselves and those around them. Always ensuring that the relevant guidelines are followed such as wearing the correct PPE and following the right procedures regarding the use of relevant substances, equipment or machinery are straightforward ways which promote safe working.

Attending and following relevant training can ensure people are up to date on recent risk assessments, processes and PPE requirements.

What To Do if You Think You Are Not Being Protected

There may be a number of reasons why you are concerned regarding your health and safety at work.

If you think your health is being affected by exposure at work seek medical advice as soon as possible either from your occupational health team or your GP. You should also raise this issue with your line manager so they can consider what they can do to help you.

If you feel that your employer is not taking the appropriate actions with regards to your health and safety then there are several options available;

  • You can raise this with your line manager/health and safety manager who may be able to look into the issue for you and provide a resolution such as adapting your role or moving your working area away from any exposure
  • Ask to see copies of the risk assessments and/or safe system of work documents
  • You can report your concerns to your local authority or the HSE’s Concerns and Advice Team

Your health and safety at work is ultimately your employer’s responsibility. They must ensure they provide a safe working environment and you should feel that you are adequately protected at your workplace.

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