Roger Gibbs exposes the three commons myths behind implementing COSHH in the workplace and discovers that while modern technology is important human input is still vital
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 20021 implement the Chemical Agents Directive 98/24/EC2, and lay down specific requirements on company management to assess the risks to the health of employees for each individual work area where materials hazardous to health are being used, irrespective of the number of employees.
The results of these assessments enable employers to make rational, valid and effective decisions about measures necessary to prevent or adequately control the exposure of employees to such hazards, and to identify requirements for other measures and systems specified in the COSHH Regulations, e.g. health surveillance, maintaining engineering controls.
Between 1971 and 2008, the EC Inventory3 had registered approximately 105,000 chemicals – those registered before 1981 were often accompanied by limited data and hazard information. More information had to be provided for new chemicals placed on the market after 1981. Improving this situation is one of the aims of the REACH Regulation4.
To comply with REACH, chemical manufacturers in, and importers into, Europe are required to register their products with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, providing hazard classification supported by test data, safety and physical information and exposure scenarios. This process began in 2010 and will continue until 2018 for chemicals already on the market. Registration of new chemicals must be completed before they are placed on the market.
REACH also requires manufacturers and importers to carry out assessments and produce Exposure Scenarios for the uses of the chemical that have been identified and registered. This additional safety information is to be published and communicated in the form of extended Safety Data Sheets.
These Safety Data Sheets are usually the first place to look for information about hazards associated with a given material. Some caution, however, may be needed as many Safety Data Sheets fall short of the basic requirements for hazard classification and guidance on exposure controls as well as being non-compliant with Annex II of the REACH Regulation and the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation (CLP)5.
Realising that the COSHH Regulations mentioned above would take some time to be understood and implemented across industry, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a simplified guidance procedure in 1998, COSHH Essentials (HSG193)6, which is now available online. This in no way replaces the requirements made under the COSHH Regulations, but focuses, through its procedures, more on the fundamental aspects of chemical substances and their use in terms of their characteristics and operational hazards related to them.
A control banding approach is used to categorise hazards to health using Risk Phrases established for classifications under the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP)7 while looking at how much is being used and for how long and encompassing other factors such as operating temperatures, vapour pressures and dustiness. This information is evaluated in order to select the appropriate level of control needed and links directly to the HSE’s Control Guidance Sheets8 for possible methods of providing exposure controls.
Myth 1: Computers can do your COSHH assessments for you
In recent times, certain software packages have come onto the market with claims that they can provide COSHH Assessment Sheets based solely on information from the Safety Data Sheet. Such claims seriously misrepresent and undermine the work that really needs to be done.
Clearly, experience teaches us that arbitrarily entering hazard information for a material taken from a Safety Data Sheet into a computer-generated COSHH assessment program is unlikely to produce the right risk indicators and specification of suitable control measures. This can lead to installation of ‘over-the-top’ protective controls that may prove very expensive to implement and may also increase production costs. On the other hand inadequate controls may expose employees to serious hazards resulting in ill-health or worse.
Consider, for example, a hazardous chemical that is used in various processes in a factory, each process, possibly, with a different manner of application. Or the same process may be carried out in process units that have different systems for containment or air extraction. Moreover, a computer program would need to identify any hazardous products created as a result of chemical reactions within specific processes and factor these in to the risk assessment. In each case, the COSHH Risk Assessment results depend not only on the product being used but what other materials it used, in addition to the manner of use. It is clearly unreasonable to expect that any software could be written to safely and automatically accommodate all the variations.
Myth 2: COSHH assessment is complicated and needs an expert
The HSE’s COSHH Essentials demonstrates that someone who has enough knowledge of the work activity in which a hazardous material is used, and can competently extract the required information from a Safety Data Sheet can undertake a COSHH assessment on many simple and common processes. This step leads to identification of a suitable level of control.
It should be noted that whilst the COSHH Essentials, or similar technique, may be applicable to simple or common processes such as many cleaning tasks, or loading a hopper with material for example, specialist advice may be needed for materials, hazards and processes that fall outside this simple approach. It is at this stage that expert assistance may be needed if specialist or high-level control measures are required. Nevertheless, initial use of the simple approach enables the health and safety manager to limit specialist input to those situations that require it instead of the whole range of chemicals and activities.
Myth 3: My workforce won’t understand the COSHH assessment
The COSHH Regulations require an employer to inform his employees about substances hazardous to health, the risks associated with using them and what measures are necessary for protection. The means to convey this information is left to the employer, but it is almost universally accepted that Safety Data Sheets are not the appropriate medium for most people due to their complexity and size9.
After an assessment and once protective control measures have been assigned, the degree of hazard presented by any particular material in addition to what preventative or protective measures are required, need to be written in an understandable way for the non-expert employee or contractor. A good starting point would be to use basic statements that satisfy the following questions: Could this harm me? – How bad could it be? – What should I do, or not do, to protect myself?
Simple graphics, alongside any text, can also be a powerful aid to convey the degree of hazard and what is needed for effective protection to employees. Careful use of pictograms and symbols can assist in the rapid assimilation of important detail as may be required in an emergency situation for example. Graphics can also play an important role when linguistic difficulties are encountered but graphics should not be uniquely relied on and, wherever possible, concise explanatory text should also be used in the applicable mother tongue.
One aid to enable employees to grasp the degree of hazard of a particular chemical and understand what protective measures are needed is the Workplace Action Safety
Protection Sheet (WASPS) from Environmental Science Ltd. This computer-formatted page strikes a balance between text and graphics and can be used to swap-in different languages.
It should be remembered though that such devices, although useful, do not replace the Safety Data Sheet and serve only to communicate and assist the understanding by non-experts of hazards and what protective measures may be needed.
To make a valid, appropriate and effective COSHH assessment, it is necessary to:
1. Obtain information about the exact way in which a chemical is being used (or is planned to be used), preferably by observation and talking to the people involved, and who may be affected.
2. Use an up-to-date and legislatively compliant Safety Data Sheet to determine the hazards and other properties associated with the material.
3. Check that any protective control measures already in place are being used correctly and are in good working order.
4. If adequate, use COSHH Essentials or a similar approach to determine if the control measures in place are appropriate. If such an approach is not adequate, a more rigorous assessment will need to be carried out in accordance with the Regulations.
5. Determine if any Workplace Exposure Limits10 apply and consider air monitoring in the work area to check that the controls are, indeed, effective.
Computers, software and IT systems have a place in management of chemicals in the workplace for keeping records, flagging-up review dates, enabling access to information, etc. but assessing risks to the health of the workforce requires activity-specific information and knowledge that can only be recognised and selected by a human being.
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 SI 2002/2667 (As amended by SI 2003/978, SI 2004/3386)
- Directive 98/24/EC on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work
- EC Inventory (EINECS, ELINCS and NLP) http://esis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/
- Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation, (EC) No 1907/2006
- Classification, Labelling and Packaging Substances and Mixtures Regulation, (EC) No 1272/2008
- COSHH Essentials: http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/essentials/index.htm
- Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 (CHIP 4) SI 2009/716
- HSE’s Control Guidance Sheets http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/
- Source: HSE’s 3Rs Programme, ‘End Stage Review: Stages 1-3’, a paper by Marion Evans and Shelagh Molloy
- EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits: Containing the list of workplace exposure limits for use with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) HSE Books 2005
Roger Gibbs, Corporate Safety, Health & Environment Manager, Cambridge Consultants Limited
t: 01223 392371
f: 01223 423373
We’re often asked the question ‘What is COSHH?’. So we’ve decided to create an article which aims to define COSHH in simple terms. We have supplied supporting information so that you have everything you need to know in order to run your operations safely, efficiently and profitably.
So, What Is COSHH?
The term COSHH stands for ‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’. Basically, it is the law that requires employers to control these substances. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002) employers are required to either prevent, reduce or at the very least, control exposure to hazardous substances in order to prevent ill health to their workers.
The vast majority of organisations today use substances that could cause some type of harm or health effects to employees and contractors. Research suggests that almost a quarter of workers are exposed in some way whilst at work.
These hazardous substances can come in many different forms such as:
+ Biological Agents
Every year, thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substance. Lung disease, cancer and skin disease to name a few. These diseases cost millions of pounds each year to society, industry and of course the individuals affected.
By following the COSHH Regulations, a company can save money and be more effective by not having to replace trained workers, can improve production and can cut waste. Ensuring workers remain healthy can also lead to healthy profits. Good health is good business.
The HSE Guide ‘Working With Substances Hazardous To Health’ outlines how you should assess the risk of your own substances and what control measures you should have in place to reduce employees exposure.
Exposure – Assess, Control, Review
Some examples of exposure can be found in dusty and/or fume-laden environments such as quarries, metal finishers and woodworking factories. Workers within these professions are at high risks of lung disease if not controlled effectively. Other illnesses such as dermatitis, asthma and even cancer are exposure risks in the construction, metal and wet working industries.
Many other products or substances used at work can be harmful, such as glue, ink, paint, lubricant, beauty products and detergent. Benzene in crude oil can even cause leukaemia. It is essential to remember however, that whilst most substances can harm health, when used properly, they almost never do.
Some substances may have other issues of concern, such as be flammable, for example solvent-based products can give off flammable vapour. Clouds of dust from everyday materials, such as flour or wood dust, can explode if ignited.
It is very important to look at each substance individually and evaluate in what ways they can be harmful? You can do this by:
+ Checking information that came with the product
+ Asking the supplier and/or trade association
+ Asking a qualified occupational hygiene consultant
+ Looking in the trade press for health and safety information
Then think about the task. If the substance is harmful, how might your employees or contractors be exposed? By breathing in any gases, mist, dust or fumes? Will it come into contact with their skin? Is there a chance it could be swallowed? Can it in any way come into contact with a person’s eyes?
Exposure By Inhalation
If inhaled, 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 like the liver.
Exposure By Skin Contact
Some substances can damage a person’s skin, while others pass through it and damage other parts of the body. Skin can get contaminated by either direct contact with the substance, splashing, airborne dust or by contact with contaminated surfaces (including contact with contamination inside protective gloves).
Other Exposure Routes
People can also transfer chemicals from their hands to their mouths if hands are not washed after substances have been handled. This can be done via eating or smoking. Vapour, gas and dust can also has the potential to irritate the eye. Caustic fluid splashes have been known to damage a person’s eyesight permanently.
To comply with regulations the employer must assess the risks to health arising from hazardous substances created by the work activity, and then decide what precautions are needed in order to prevent or adequately control exposure.
The regulations have a hierarchy of control measures which must be followed. If it is at all possible, the activity or process must be changed so that hazardous substances aren’t used or generated, or a safer alternative should be put into place.
If prevention is not reasonably practicable, exposure should then be controlled by methods such as ventilation or enclosure.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be the last control measure to be used and this is the last line of defence.
The employer must then make sure that all control measures are properly used and maintained. If necessary, Monitoring of Exposure and Health Surveillance must be provided.
Employees must always be properly informed, trained and supervised. Just having HSE safety data sheets on file is not sufficient to comply with COSHH requirements.
COSHH Assessment Procedures
To comply, you need to follow these eight steps, which we will be going into further detail about over the coming weeks via eight individual in depth articles:
Step 1 – Assess The Risks
Step 2 – Decide What Precautions Are Required
Step 3 – Prevent or Adequately Control Exposure
Step 4 – Ensure That Control Measures Are Used and Maintained
Step 5 – Monitor The Exposure
Step 6 – Carry Out Appropriate Health Surveillance
Step 7 – Prepare A Plan For Accidents and Emergencies
Step 8 – Ensure Employees Are Properly Informed, Trained and Supervised
Experts In COSHH Monitoring
Envirocare is a leading Occupational Hygiene and Health and Safety services provider with over 20 years of experience throughout the UK and are one of only a few consultancies in the UK to be UKASaccredited for workplace dust monitoring.
We offer comprehensive COSHH Air Monitoring to determine the levels of substances in the workplace and ensure the WEL value is not exceeded for the substances you use. We will also provide a detailed report on work practices and findings together with recommendations for remedial action and Risk Assessment advice to ensure compliance with the relevant Workplace Exposure Limits.
We hope that this article has helped answer the question ‘What Is COSHH?’ Call us on 01274 738668 or fill out our Envirocare Enquiry Form for any queries regarding COSHH or any of our other accredited Environmental and Occupational Hygiene services.