COSHH assessment is a procedure of identifying hazard and assessing risk, which is based on Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations issued in 2002 in United Kingdom. It is necessary to state that this procedure doesn't cover all the risk management issues, and hazards are not limited to hazardous substances.
The COSHH regulations cover several types of substances that are hazardous to health including: chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours, mists, nanotechnology, gases and germs. It doesn't cover e.g. lead, asbestos or radioactive substances.
In United Kingdom regulations apply to all enterprises, including SME sector. In case of the smallest enterprises, that have no employees (only owner) some requirements are excluded (e.g. monitoring or health surveillance).
The procedure of assessment consists of several steps:
- Identification of substances
- Determining whether the substance is harmful to health
- Determining when the exposure to the substance can happen
- Review of records about accidents
Identification of substances
The walk around the workplace should help detect any substances that are hazardous to health. The source of hazard can be e.g. process during which some dust of fume is emitted. It is important not to limit a list of substances to those that are stored in the enterprise only. It is necessary to look at process of work. Most of the fumes and mists are not stored, but thay arise in process. They also are hazardous to health.
Determining whether the substance is harmful to health
Analysis of safety data sheet or trade magazines can help in assessment of typical substances. But some substances that arise from production processes have no safety data sheet. In that case it is necessary to find data on Health and Safety Executive website or ask professional consultant for help. Examples of substances that have no safety data sheet are: fumes from welding or gases from silage.
Determining when the exposure to the substance can happen
Not only identification of substances is important. For each hazardous substance there should be noted in which jobs or tasks the employee can be exposed. In case of such substances, most of the companies have already some control measures in use. They also should be described.
Review of records about accidents
Review of records about accidents can help in a fuller identification. An accident book or similar document can help remind about past situations related to hazardous substances.
Dealing with hazards, limiting risks
There are several ways of limiting risks related to hazardous substances, e.g.:
- Substitution - some substances can be substituted with another, which present less risk or are not hazardous to health. That solves the problem, however it is not always possible.
- Limiting exposure - only about 500 substances have Workplace Exposure Limits. For those substances proper monitoring procedure is required. The employees can be exposed by breathing, skin contact, injection into the skin or swallowing.
- Chemical safety data sheets - they contain information about hazards related to substances. Every chemical that is sold and can be dangerous should have such information. The sheet doesn't contain risk analysis - it can only serve as the source of information.
- Control measures - the control measures can use control equipment, describe procedures of control or describe worker behaviour. The control equipment can help to detect that substance (e.g. fume) is present in the workplace. The procedures can describe how qualified employees should control substances, how they should be trained and supervised. Sometimes it is sufficient if workers are trained to behave properly, e.g. wear personal protective equipment, use control equipment, follow hygiene procedures.
- Permits to work - In case of high risk, some more strict control can be required. The permit to work is a procedure that authorises employees to carry out tasks. It describes for how long the task can be performed.
- Personal protective equipment are e.g.: respirators, protective gloves, clothing, footwear, eye protection. It is necessary to determine whether using of PPE is necessary and what type of it should be used. It is important to train workers in using PPE. The PPE should fit correctly, be comfortable, compatible with other PPEs, not interfere with job being done.
- Monitoring - monitoring is necessary to check whether control is adequate, control and protective equipment works well enough. It doesn't cover worker's health.
- Health surveillance - the result of surveillance should be information about employees' health, which helps protect them from additional risks.
- Training for employees - well trained employees know how to behave when using hazardous substances, therefore the risk of accident decreases. Employees should be aware what hazards and risks are, what are exposure limits, how they should protect themselves, what are results of health surveillance, etc.
- Dealing with emergencies - The emergency procedures to cope with foreseeable accidents, incidents or emergencies should be prepared and trained.
- COSHH, Health and Safety Executive
- COSHH Assessment, University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering Health & Safety
- COSSH Risk Assessment, Newcastle University, Occupational Health & Safety Service
Author: Slawomir Wawak