#UnderTheCOSHH – what employers & employees need to know about harmful substances at work

Thompsons Solicitors discuss the law regarding COSHH assessments and the responsibilities placed on employers

Thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substances every year. Often, this is because employers have failed to take basic steps to prevent or control their employee’s exposure to dangerous substances.

According to government statistics, 13,000 people die each year from exposure to chemicals and dust at work. Many of these deaths would have been prevented by a robust health and safety culture.

Every employer has a legal duty of care for the health and safety of workers. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 outline how employers should assess risks and the measures they should have in place to limit employees’ from exposure to hazardous substances. Read our advice below to make sure you are #UnderTheCOSHH.

Is your business under the COSHH?

COSHH requires employers to control substances hazardous to health and makes them responsible to provide a safe workplace as well as put procedures in place to prevent or, where that isn’t possible to control workers’ exposure to hazardous substances.

Before workers carry out any jobs involving hazardous substances, employers must complete a COSHH risk assessment to determine what they should do to protect their employees.

What is a COSHH Risk Assessment?

Hazardous substances that require a COSHH risk assessment include, but are not limited to, dust, fumes, oils, glues, disinfectants and even biological agents such as mould, fungi or sewage.

As part of the COSHH assessment, employers should:

  • Identify all hazardous substances
  • Decide who may be at risk and consider how likely it is that their health will be affected
  • Evaluate limiting the amount of exposure or using a safer substitute
  • Plan and organise the workplace so that hazardous substances are safely stored away and waste is disposed of properly
  • Review and frequently monitor the level of exposure to substances at work

I’m an employee – what can I do?

If you are concerned that substances used at work or that you come across in your work could put your health at risk, then you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Has my employer ever provided me with any health and safety training?
  • Does my employer carry out regular health and safety risk assessments?

If the answer is no to either, then either you or your trade union representative should speak to your employer immediately seeking the information and training you need to stay safe.

Free Toolkit for Employers & Employees

Thompsons Solicitors has compiled a toolkit for employers and employees to share in their workplaces. Our ‘Under the COSHH’ toolkit is designed to make workers aware of the hazardous substances associated with their work, and provide advice on how to prevent ill-health and minimise the risk of accidents.

You can find the toolkit at www.thompsonstradeunion.law/news/campaigns/under-the-coshh