The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) is the UK legislation which deals with the handling of hazardous substances in the workplace. Through conducting a risk assessment, compliance with COSHH can be much easier as these assessments will allow employers to identify where the hazardous substances are and how to subsequently protect against them. It is an employer's responsibility to ensure COSHH is complied with and upheld in the workplace appropriately. If this does not occur, the employer and responsible individuals will face severe repercussions.
How does COSHH ensure that individuals in the workplace are protected against hazardous substances?
The purpose of COSHH is to protect employers, employees, customers and work associates, and all who encounter a workplace which has hazardous substances on the premises, regardless of the form in which these hazardous substances present themselves. COSHH places the following responsibilities upon employers:
- Identifying hazardous substances in the workplace and the different forms in which they can present themselves.
- To conduct a risk assessment, which essentially identifies the hazardous substances and then distinguishes what appropriate control measures must be used to protect individuals against these substances.
- The employer must ensure that these control measures are upheld and maintained, such as making sure that each employee abides by these control measures.
- The employer must circulate and communicate the health and safety standards which have been established to protect against hazardous substances to all employees, ensuring every employee and work associate is aware of the relevant health and safety measures.
- There must be appropriate monitoring of these health and safety standards to ensure that if there are any changes in the workplace, the control measures need to reflect and take this into consideration.
- Planning needs to be arranged for emergencies also. There should be established emergency plans.
What is a substance hazardous to health?
For some organisations, this is easy enough to identify if the organisation creates harmful substances as a job. For example, chemistry labs creating certain substances.
However, harmful substances can occur in many different forms. For example, bleach and dust from a building site, or even paint, if is dealt with in the wrong manner can be harmful.
Ultimately, COSHH refers to substances harmful to health as the following:
- Gases and asphyxiating gases
- Biological agents, such as bacteria. This may occur more commonly in health care industries, for example legionella found in water systems, which can cause Legionnaires' disease
- Enzyme dust
What will happen if your organisation does not comply with COSHH?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are responsible for enforcing COSHH, and are subsequently responsible for the penalty system which will be administered if an organisation does not comply with COSHH. If an organisation does not comply, then the likelihood of an employee or customer becoming ill due to contact with a hazardous substance is vastly increased, and they could become severely ill. Therefore, punishment is not administered lightly.
The HSE prosecuted 551 organisations from 2010 to 2011, which was an increase of 9% from 2009. Of these 551 cases, 517 were convicted and there were fines that totalled £18.6 million. For example, in 2011 Catalent Pharam Solutions were faced with the crippling fine of £100,000 for lack of compliance with COSHH. This case was publicised heavily considering this organisation are in the health industry, yet they had failed to comply with regulations that have been put into place to protect the health of their employees through not carrying out a risk assessment.
To avoid prosecution, fines and the tarnishing of your organisation's reputation, compliance with COSHH is absolutely essential. Moreover, it will ethically protect the health of all individuals involved with your organisation, and this compliance can be established easily through the implementation of training.