Hazardous Substances

Hazardous Substances
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Hazardous substances cause thousands of deaths at work due to ill health and disease. It’s therefore essential to understand the correct procedures and legislation around dealing with hazardous substances. This blog will look at a range of factors surrounding hazardous substances, including the definition and legal responsibilities.

What are Hazardous Substances?

Hazardous substances are substances that cause damage to your health. For example, by entering your body and reaching an organ. There are multiple ways an individual can be at risk of hazardous substances:

Skin Contact 
Through absorption, the hazardous substances can get into the bloodstream.

An individual can breath in a substance in the form of a gas, vapour or dust.

This can lead to absorption through the gut into the bloodstream.

By penetrating the skin, harmful substances can enter the body.

Exposure to any of these can cause ill health alongside other dangers, for example, chemical can be extremely flammable. Through careful planning, assessment, management and control, most hazards are preventable.

Health Implications

The effects of hazardous substances can vary from minor to more severe. This ultimately depends on the substance in question and the method of entry. Some of the most common health implications are below:

  • Skin disease – Approximately 9000 cases in 2017
  • Losing consciousness
  • Infections
  • Cancer – Around 8000 deaths a year
  • Asthma – Around 200-300 new cases a year

These implications can result from two ways. Firstly, using a hazardous substance directly as part of the job. For example, a bleaching agent. Secondly, coming in contact with a hazardous subject as a result of work activities. For example, dust from cutting materials.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002

The introduction of COSHH was in the late 1980’s. It deals with exposure to chemicals and requires the prevention of hazardous substances or the substitution of ones less hazardous. It documents three main ways of doing this:

  1. Control Equipment – For example, enclosures or ventilation systems.
  2. Controlling procedures – For example, ways of working or supervision and training.
  3. Working behaviour – Follow the appropriate control measures. For example, wearing PPE equipment.

In order to apply with COSHH, there are seven steps to take:

  1. Assess the risk

    Firstly, you need to identify all substances used in the workplace and create an inventory. During this process, consider factors such as how often the substances are used and how they are harmful. Once this is done you can identify if there is any unreasonable risk remaining and what should be done to correct it. Document the results if you decide that there isn’t a risk to health and safety and no further action will be required.

  2. Record and review the assessment

    Secondly, write down the main findings of the assessment. Adequate justification is required in the report for your reasoning behind whether a substance is hazardous or not. It’s important to update these records overtime, for example every time there has been significant change at work. If your health and safety is under review, the enforcing authorities may review the records.

  3. Prevent or adequately control exposure

    COSHH requires you to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, where practical to do so. For example, consider replacing the substance with a safer alternative. If this is not reasonably possible, then you should look to use control measures such as ventilation systems.

    Use control measures

  4. Under COSHH, employees are required to use the control measures provided and report any problems. Therefore, the employer must ensure that all employees have been trained and supplied with the correct information. Furthermore, the employer is required to conduct regular tests to ensure that the controls are well maintained and are efficient.
  5. Monitor exposure

    You may required to monitor the concentration of hazardous substances in the air breathed by the workers to identify factors such as a fault in control measures. If there is any exposure in the environment, this must be kept on the records for at least five years. However, exposure is related to an individual it has to be kept for 40 years.

  6. Carry out appropriate health surveillance

    There are multiple objectives to health surveillance such as early detection of health effects and to check the accuracy of the risk assessment. To comply with COSHH, carry out health surveillance when an employee is exposed to a substance that is linked with a disease to comply with COSHH. Keep a simple record of  any health surveillance. Keep this record for a minimum of 40 years.

  7. Properly inform, train and supervise staff

    Finally, make sure that employees are provided with sufficient and suitable information, instructions and training on factors such as the risks of certain substances and what precautions they should take.

Eric’s Top Tip

Our safety expert had this to say about hazardous substances: “When developing control measures, involve your workers to make sure they are suitable measures for their work. Encourage them to give suggestions on improvements and to report anything that has gone wrong. This will help towards creating a safer workplace”.


How Sure Safety Can Help

Sure Safety can help you work towards complying with COSHH regulations and suggest appropriate ways of safely dealing with hazardous substances.

To arrange a consultation , call 029 2086 8802 or email info@suresafety.com.

Sure Safety can offer consultancy in the following areas: Health and Safety, Risk Assessment, Fire, Accreditation, Training and Policies, Planning and Management Systems. For more information on these services, look at our website.  In addition, you can check out our Twitter and Facebook.