This summer, there was an unlikely star attraction at the Rio Olympics – the now-infamous “green pool”. At the beginning of the games, the pool was a familiar blue colour, but almost overnight, the pool turned green – and no-one knew why. After confirmation from officials that there was no risk to the athletes’ health, the Twitterverse then continued to ponder what had happened.
The cause was finally determined and it was revealed that a significant amount of hydrogen peroxide had been be added to the pool which caused the colour change. This incident brought to the forefront, the importance of Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, or as it’s more commonly known, COSHH.
COSHH Regulations 2002 is the main body of law that protects employees from the effects of hazardous substances in the workplace. It requires employers to assess the risk to their employees and to prevent or adequately control those risks. Currently enforcement authorities, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are focusing on occupational ill health and disease. There’s a particular emphasis on protecting employees from hazardous substances in the workplace, which can cause or increase the risk of occupational diseases, such as occupational asthma and cancer.
It’s common to think that COSHH risk assessments might only be relevant in certain industries, like construction, engineering or in medical practices, but their importance can sometimes be overlooked in your average office setting.
If an important client was visiting your office, you might want to ensure everything is clean and tidy – including the bathrooms, prior to their arrival, using the products stored under the sink. However, if you have a have contracted company who clean the building using their own products and chemicals, you won’t know which cleaning chemicals have been used and at what time. So what might be a moment of tidiness before a meeting, could inadvertently expose you and your visitors to hazardous substances – the mix could be dangerous.
Colette Howley, Health & Safety Consultant for Citation, has looked at an example of what can happen when you fail to follow COSHH and how it could lead to health issues and costly consequences.
“An employee of a rubber sealants manufacturing company contracted allergic contact dermatitis, after being exposed to sensitising ingredients in rubber compounds. The HSE investigated and found that the company failed to assess and manage the risks arising from the products used. The company had to pay over £46,000 in fines and costs.”
Colette highlights that “this case emphasises the need for organisations to carefully consider how their activities can affect their employees’ health. It’s important to act upon this to reduce the risk of disease.”
5 ways to help manage COSHH
1. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV):
This is equipment which carries away airborne contaminants (e.g. silica, welding fumes, anaesthetic gases and wood dust) before they are breathed in. LEV is a “collective control measure” which means it can protect a group of people in the vicinity rather than solely protecting an individual. Collective measures like LEV should be prioritised other control measures, like respiratory protective equipment which only protects individuals.
2. Health Screening and Health Surveillance:
Health screening is used in conjunction with risk assessment to identify if it’s safe for an employee to undertake a work activity, or if a task may exacerbate any pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or dermatitis.
Health surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks. These health checks may be required by law or identified as necessary through a COSHH risk assessment.
Health surveillance is required when:
3. Personal Protectve Equipment (PPE):
PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. As PPE only protects the wearer, it must be used only where control of exposure by other means has already been considered not reasonably practicable – PPE is not a substitute for other exposure controls.
4. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE):
This a particular type of PPE. It’s used to protect individuals against the inhalation of hazardous substances in the workplace air. Tight fitting RPE (i.e. full and half masks) must be face-fit tested by a competent person at the initial selection stage and if there are any changes after fitting, such as weight-gain or loss.
It’s important to remember that this equipment will need to be retested and records kept as well.
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