Workplace Safety

COSHH risk assessments

By Matthew Reymes Cole
14 Jul 2021

If your employees are likely to come into contact with any hazardous materials, you should conduct a COSHH assessment.

A COSHH assessment stands for the “Control of Substances Hazardous to Health” and is the primary piece of legislation and set of regulations you need to be aware of relating to harmful substances.

This will help you stay compliant, reduce any workplace injuries and absences, and keep your employees safe.

In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know so you can conduct your business safely and securely.

What is a COSHH assessment?

A COSHH assessment is a type of risk assessment that focuses on the hazards and risks from substances in your workplace. You conduct a risk assessment to minimise the risk to your staff.

It’s a thorough look at your workplace to identify all situations, products, and processes that may cause harm. After you have identified these, it is time to evaluate how likely and severe the risk is, and then decide what measures should be in place to prevent or control the harm from happening.

Performing COSHH risk assessments fall under your legal duties as an employer. You should review these assessments:

  1. Annually.
  2. Whenever you introduce a new substance to the workplace.
  3. Whenever you change a substance.

What does a COSHH risk assessment cover?

There may be certain substances that immediately come to mind when you think of COSHH. Hot oils. Dangerous chemicals. A COSHH assessment would cover these materials, but has a broader scope than you might think.

Each workplace is different and will have its own unique risks. For this reason, it may tempt you to narrow down what you cover. For example, conduct a simple “working with chemicals” risk assessment instead of a full COSHH report.

We’d recommend against this approach, as this may cause you missing hazards that are less obvious, but still present a risk. The full scale of COSHH will cover the following:

  1. Hazardous substances risk assessment.
    1. Dust.
    2. Fumes.
    3. Vapour.
    4. Mist or gas.
  2. Chemical risk assessment.
    1. Pastes.
    2. Solvents.
    3. Acids.

How to do a COSHH risk assessment

In this section, we’ll break the COSHH assessment into steps.

  1. Identify the hazards: which substances are harmful? Does any work process produce harmful substances? i.e. cutting, grinding.
  2. Identify who will be harmed: who is most at risk? How will staff be exposed? How often will people come into contact with the substance?
  3. Evaluate risks: how dangerous are the substances? How likely is a serious accident to occur?
  4. Decide on precautions: can you substitute any dangerous substances with a safer alternative? What control measures can you put in place to reduce or control exposure?

COSHH and health & safety go hand in hand. Failing to consider the risks and control them will mean a breach of health & safety law and potential fines from the HSE. In serious cases, your business could face closure.

COSHH control measures

The last step in your risk assessment is implementing adequate control measures to prevent or reduce exposure and minimise risk. So what are some measures you can implement?

An example of a control measure is PPE (personal protective equipment) as this minimises exposure. However, the ideal control measure would control the substance itself rather than minimising exposure to it.

The first and most significant is a review of the exposure itself. Are employees exposed to hazardous materials as part of a work process—is it a major component of their role?

If yes, ask yourself whether you can change the process to reduce risk. If the answer is “no” then you should look at other control measures. You can usually separate these into three separate categories:

  1. Containment: putting in place physical safeguards to reduce exposure and minimise the escape or release of harmful substances.
  2. Systems of work: restricting access to the number of people who need to be exposed, as well as planning and implementing effective storage and waste disposal.
  3. Cleaning: ensuring regular and safe cleaning through tools, proper drainage and smooth work surfaces.

COSHH regulations and your legal requirements

As an employer, you have a responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of your staff. This means being proactive about the safety of your workforce.

You can do this in several ways in relation to COSHH.

  1. Regularly conduct and update risk assessments.
  2. Report any areas of concern to management or via our companies near miss reporting.
  3. Report any serious issues through RIDDOR.
  4. Inspect and review your control measures regularly.
  5. Check the safety data sheet given by your supplier.

How to write a COSHH assessment

Conducting a COSHH assessment in the workplace is vital if your employees are likely to be exposed to any harmful substances. To ensure you've taken adequate precautions against any risk, you should detail and record your findings.

However, putting together a COSHH template and ensuring that it is fit for purpose for your workplace can be time-consuming. That's why we have put together a general sample COSHH template you can adapt to fit your workplace, including all the key areas you need to cover.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently overseas a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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