COSHH: What does it stand for? Why is it so important? There are so many acronyms used in the health and safety industry that, sometimes, it may feel easier just to turn a blind eye to them all.
What’s even worse is often it seems like these health and safety terms have nothing to do with what you do or practice in your career.
Surprisingly though, health and safety regulations affect far more of us than we first think about and it is important that as many people as possible, from as many industries as possible, familiarise themselves with the health and safety basics.
What do the letters COSHH stand for?
When you break it down, the question “What does COSHH mean?” is a lot easier to answer.
COSHH is one of the health and safety basics and stands for the Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health.
What does COSHH stand for in health and safety?
COSHH stands for the regulations associated with hazardous substances in the workplace.
What is COSHH and what does it cover?
When it comes to the question “What is COSHH used for”?, COSHH is essentially the law that ensures employers control hazardous substances in the workplace. COSHH are the guidelines associated with working with substances hazardous to health regulations. Ultimately, employees should not be exposed to too much, if any, harmful substances and it is the duty of the employer to make sure employees are protected and have in place any necessary COSHH risk assessments.
How can an employer reduce and eliminate an employees’ exposure to harmful substances?
An employer can take the following precautions in order to keep employees safe under COSHH:
- Investigate the health hazards in the workplace and clearly record them on safety data sheets.
- Carry out a risk assessment, assessing how harm to health can be prevented.
- Provide control measures to reduce the risk of harm to health.
- Make sure the control measures are enforced and used in the workplace. They should be well-maintained and in good working order.
- Provide information, instruction and training for employees.
- Provide monitoring and health surveillance, where required.
- Plan for emergencies.
COSHH control measures include:
- Control equipment, such as PPE and other workplace control equipment, like local exhaust ventilation. Respiratory protective equipment is useful where air ventilation is not possible.
- Managed behaviour and controlled procedures, when handling potentially harmful substances, including training and supervision.
Does COSHH really affect me?
While you may think that COSHH doesn’t affect you and your place of work, the likelihood is that there is some sort of harmful substance in your workplace that could cause harm to you and fellow workers.
Paint, bleach and dust, for example, are all substances that need to be regulated under COSHH.
Other examples of “substances hazardous to health” are:
- Products containing chemicals
- Gases and asphyxiating (oxygen-depleted gases)
- Biological agents
- Germs that cause diseases
Substances not included in COSHH are:
- Radioactive substances
What is your role as an employee with regard to COSHH?
As an employee, your employer should have adhered to COSHH regulations and kept the workplace as safe as possible with no or minimal exposure to harmful substances.
That said, it is important to talk to your employer about the safety of the workplace and whether anything needs to be done to make your job safer. You should also familiarise yourself with COSHH symbols/signs and meanings.
Both you and your employer should ask yourselves the following three questions:
- What do you do that includes the use of hazardous substances?
- How can these substances cause harm?
- How could the likelihood of harm occurring be reduced?
Please note: If you feel you are at risk of harm, you should always inform your employer who can put methods in place to prevent harm from occurring.
Does COSHH apply to me even though I am self-employed?
COSHH applies to your business, even if you are self-employed.
If you have employees, every part of the COSHH regulation applies. If you do not have any employees, all parts of COSHH apply, except the health surveillance aspect of COSHH.
Health surveillance is essentially about obtaining information about an employee’s health.
How long do you need to keep health surveillance records?
It is imperative that health surveillance records are carried out and kept for all employees.
Health surveillance records must be kept for 40 years after the date of last entry. This is because occupational illnesses and diseases can take a number of years to emerge.
Why are COSHH regulations needed?
Bet you’re wondering why these COSHH regulations are required…after all, they never used to be…
Ultimately, COSHH keeps employers and employees at minimal risk of harm where potential exposure to harmful substances can be dangerous.
COSHH regulations ensure that harmful substances are locked away and used in the safest way possible that offers minimal risk of harm.
Workers can be exposed to harmful substances in any of the following ways:
- Breathing fume, dust, gas or mist
- Injecting into skin
- Contact through the skin
Workplace exposure limits (WELs)
There are 500 substances listed in EH40 exposure limits with workplace exposure limits (WELs), although there are many more substances used in the workplace in addition to these 500.
PPE available from Essential Safety Wear
Our PPE and safety clothing offer great value for money and may be suitable to be used in your workplace under COSHH regulations.