What is COSHH and how do I ensure my business complies with UK law?

What is COSHH and how do I ensure my business complies with UK law?

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health and relates to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, which set out the responsibilities that businesses in the UK have towards their employees to prevent or reduce exposure to dangerous substances.

What is a "substance hazardous to health"?

  • chemicals
  • products containing chemicals
  • fumes
  • dusts
  • vapours
  • mists
  • nanotechnology
  • gases and asphyxiating gases
  • biological agents (germs)
  • germs that cause diseases such as leptospirosis or legionnaires disease and germs used in laboratories
  • anything with a hazard symbol on the packaging

What steps can I take to reduce the risks?

Reduce exposure

Always try to prevent exposure where you can. You should do everything possible to avoid using a hazardous substance or to substitute it for something safer. If there is no alternative, you should use a safer process (e.g. application by brush rather than spray) or use a safer form (e.g. a solid rather than a liquid) whenever possible.

Use protective gear (PPE)

Correct personal protective equipment should be worn at all times. The type of PPE required will depend on the nature of the process and the substances used; it may include gloves, goggles, overalls, masks, etc.

Store chemicals safely

Store substances safely in appropriate, lockable hazardous substance cabinets and restrict access to essential personnel only. Flammable substances should be stored in fire-certified cabinets. Do not store chemicals together that can cause dangerous reactions when mixed. Use spill containment trays to collect spills and drips. The cabinets should be well labelled in compliance with CLP and GHS regulations.

Ensure the work environment is well ventilated

When working with hazardous substances it is important to make sure the building is well ventilated. Any gas, vapour, fumes, etc. produced should be extracted via local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and the air should be changed 5-10 times per hour. This will combat airborne contaminants although it will have no effect on exposure via skin contact.

Carry out a risk assessment

Business that use substances hazardous to health must complete a full COSHH risk assessment in compliance with UK law. Safety data sheets should be held on all substances that are dangerous for supply. Staff must be supplied with sufficient information about any hazards, risks, control measures and procedures in place as well as given adequate training in handling dangerous substances. Health surveillance should be carried out by the company for each member of staff exposed and complete records should be maintained.

Prepare an accident response plan

Even with the best safety procedures, some accidents are unavoidable. You should plan for any foreseeable accidents by:

  • training staff to act if such an incident occurs;
  • ensuring the right equipment is on hand, including protective equipment and spill control products;
  • implementing the right procedures to deal with any injuries efficiently;
  • having arrangements in place to deal with any hazardous waste created.

All members of staff should know and be comfortable with your emergency plans. Contact emergency services quickly and ensure you have all the necessary information to hand about the nature of the substance and injury.

Some abbreviations to look out for:

CLP = Classification, Labelling and Packaging: an EU regulation from 2008 that adopted the GHS classification criteria and labelling rules agreed by the UN.

GHS = Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals: a standard system set out by the United Nations to introduce standardised hazard testing criteria, universal warning pictograms and harmonised safety data sheets.

REACH = Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals: an EU regulation that controls the production and use of chemicals, and their impact on the environment and human health.


Health and Safety Executive (2018), Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

This article highlights some of the main concerns and recommendations where hazardous substances are concerned. AJ Products recommends that you follow the advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on how to apply the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. For more information, please visit: www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/

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