The safety of employees in the workplace is a key part of maintaining a healthy work environment. Millions of people work in environments that bring them into close proximity to harmful chemicals. As such, the mismanagement of hazardous materials in the workplace can have severely detrimental effects on the employees, and in most cases, can even be fatal. Whether you’re an Occupational Health and Safety consultant or run a business that deals with substances that pose a risk to your employees, here’s everything you need to know about COSHH and how these regulations can guide you towards creating a healthier work environment.
Understanding COSHH regulations
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations was updated in 2002 and has continued to serve as a legal framework providing employers with direction on how they can protect their staff members, and ultimately, society from harmful substances. COSHH regulations provide direction on how employers can limit exposure to harmful substances, clearly assess risks within the workplace, and provide adequate protection and emergency response where required. Developed by the Health and Safety Executive, COSHH regulations span small firms to large pharmaceutical plants, covering all substances that pose a risk from dangerous acids used in labs right down to cleaning products.
While it may seem daunting to try and implement precautions for every single product, the COSHH is a vital aspect of keeping employees safe. The framework details industry-specific guidelines to help employers and Occupational Health and Safety officers implement these safety measures successfully throughout the workplace. Beyond creating a physically safer space for your employees, implementing the COSHH regulations accordingly also reiterates good management and makes employees feel cared for – studies have shown that satisfied workers are usually more engaged and more productive.
What you should consider when conducting a COSHH risk assessment
Implementing COSHH means doing more than just placing a few posters and signs around the building or adding protective equipment and procedures. The first, and arguably, most important step in the process is to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. This entails the thorough identification of all potential hazards, from chemicals, fumes, vapours to gases, etc. Each workplace will differ according to space and the nature of the business, however, the lab manager or any other relevant specialist will need to conduct a risk assessment to identify all hazards within the lab and determine the correct control methods to prevent these from posing a risk to anyone in the building.
Once all hazardous substances have been identified, the employer/lab manager can put in place the necessary measures to ensure that all safety equipment is available and up-to-date. Ensuring that all risk assessments are done is important for the health and safety of employees, as well as to avoid thousands of pounds in fines for not adhering to the regulations. Although a comprehensive COSHH assessment is required for all labs that use potentially hazardous chemicals, there are a number of substances that are not covered by COSHH but are just as risky. Substances such as asbestos, lead, radioactive substances and general food and environment protection have their own regulations.
Create a safer workplace by educating staff about COSHH
Educating and training employees to stay healthy in the workplace is just as important as conducting a thorough risk assessment. The success of COSHH also relies on ensuring that employees are empowered with the knowledge they need to be able to protect themselves against harm. COSHH gives employees an understanding of health and safety protocols, so they have a clearer approach to maintaining health and safety around the workplace as well as other aspects of their job. Educating employees involves outlining potential dangers in the workplace and the number of ways exposure can take place. For example, exposure to dangerous substances can happen in various ways. Consequently, it’s important to alert employees to protective measures that limit exposure such as respirators, PPE, eye protection, protective gloves and footwear as well as training them on how to effectively use these.
A framework for maintaining a healthy and safe work environment
As outlined above, COSHH regulations provide a clear framework and set the blueprint for a healthy workspace and environment. It is an important regulation that guides a key part of health and safety such as risk assessments, protective work gear and the overall education and training of employees.
If you would like to learn more or want to train your staff in this subject, take a look at our online COSHH Awareness training course. For training courses like this, go to either our Care Essentials page or Health and Safety Essentials page.