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Hazardous Substances - COSHH Regulations - Overview
What is a "substance hazardous to health"?
COSHH covers chemicals, products containing chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours, mists and gases, and biological agents (germs). If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols then it is classed as a hazardous substance.
COSHH also covers asphyxiating gases.
COSHH covers germs that cause diseases such as leptospirosis or legionnaires' disease: and germs used in laboratories.
COSHH doesn’t cover lead, asbestos or radioactive substances because these have their own specific regulations.
This guidance is only aimed at those businesses likely to have chemicals stored or used on their premises. Other classes of hazardous substances are dealt with in other Quick Guides or require specific professional advice.
All hazardous substances supplied for sale must carry the Hazard Warning Symbol appropriate to the substance. They are generally the orange and black symbols found on many common substances or the new international red and white symbols.
The manufacturer of each substance is obliged to supply a Safety Data Sheet on request which will set out the nature of the hazard, how to store and use the substance, the minimum control measures necessary to control exposure and any necessary personal protective equipment. The data sheet will also include instructions on how to dispose of the substance safely and without damaging the environment. The manufacturer’s contact details must be on the product label.
Does COSHH apply to me?
If you have employees (including subcontractors), every part of COSHH applies.
If you have no employees (but you take hazardous substances to other people's premises), all parts of COSHH regulations apply except those about monitoring and health surveillance.
Reducing the Risk of Harm at Source
If you cannot replace the substance can you eliminate the hazard at source: for example:
What if you cannot prevent exposure?
If you can’t prevent exposure by eliminating the hazard at source, you need to control it 'adequately' by applying the principles of good control practice:
The objective of COSHH is to prevent, or to adequately control, exposure to substances hazardous to health, so as to prevent ill health. You can do this by:
Control equipment can be general ventilation, extraction systems such as local exhaust ventilation, enclosure, or where the air cannot be cleaned, refuges and respiratory protective equipment
Other control equipment includes spillage capture, decontamination, clean-up procedures and personal protective equipment.
Ways of working
Control through ways of working includes operating procedures, supervision and training.
It also means testing all control measures regularly – equipment, ways of working and behaviour, to make sure that they work properly.
You should keep records of examinations, tests and repairs to equipment for at least five years. This helps to identify any trends or variations in equipment deterioration.
Where control measures are in place it is important to use them properly. This includes:
Control is adequate when the risk of harm is "as low as is reasonably practicable". This means:
Certain chemicals are subject to Workplace Exposure Limits. The exposure limit will be set out in the data sheets.
Regard must be had to the exposure limits when determining the adequacy of the control measures.