The term COSHH stands for 'Control of Substances Hazardous to Health' and was established in law by ‘The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulation 2002'. In the UK, the regulation is overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The regulation was introduced in order to control the exposure of individuals to hazardous substances in the workplace.
What is COSHH?
Under 'Control of Substances Hazardous to Health' regulation, an employer must control exposure to materials that could cause ill health in a workplace. This applies to employees but also others who may attend a workplace such as visitors and suppliers. The ‘Substances’ element of COSHH can include chemicals, products containing chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours, mists, nanotechnology, gases and biological agents. The ‘Hazardous’ element of COSHH includes possible damage to lungs, skin, nose, mouth, eyes, central nervous system, internal organs, and risk of injury from combustion or explosion.
The COSHH regulations state five broad areas of employer responsibility:
- identify which harmful substances are present in the workplace
- understand how people could be exposed to them and be harmed
- put measures in place to prevent harm and review whether you’re doing enough
- provide information, instruction and training
- where necessary, monitor health
Many industries will already be familiar with COSHH regulations because of their higher exposure to hazardous substances such as mining, metal working, plastics factories, construction, and the automotive industry. However COSHH regulation incorporates all workplaces and recognises a responsibility for employers to assess risk. For example in an office there is the possibility of construction improvements, internal cleaning systems and overall building design and maintenance which would fall under COSHH regulations.
The regulations are also applied to the self-employed who have a responsibility to adhere to COSHH for both themselves or any employees or other individuals that come in to their workplace.
Why is COSHH important?
The fundamental importance of 'Control of Substances Hazardous to Health' is a human one in aiming to avoid any risk to health in the workplace, and this is the overriding principle of adherence to COSHH regulations. However there are also business case issues relating to COSHH. A 2018/2019 study by the HSE reported over a million cases of workplace injury or work related ill health, at an estimated cost of £16.2 billion to the UK economy.
The punishment for failing to comply with COSHH regulations can also be severe. The maximum penalty in a UK magistrates’ court is an unlimited fine and a prison sentence of up to six months. In the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years.
Who might need to undertake COSHH awareness training?
Providing COSHH training and COSHH Awareness is a fundamental responsibility of employers to their employees and should be incorporated in to an individual’s wider Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Although an employer has the main responsibility to ensure employees receive the necessary training in COSHH Awareness, the COSHH regulations state that employees must adhere to any COSHH framework implemented in a workplace and maintain an understanding and awareness of these requirements. High risk industries will provide mandatory COSHH Awareness training but, given the whole range of workplace environments are covered by COSHH regulations, any individual who interacts with these settings should be participating in COSHH Awareness training as part of their ongoing CPD.
Equally all employers must be fully informed regarding COSHH in order to establish effective systems and risk assessments within the workplace, and need to ensure they have received comprehensive and up to date COSHH Awareness training.