COSHH Assessments: A Beginner’s Guide

coshh hazards symbols joined together in a row

If your employees routinely use or are exposed to hazardous substances in the workplace, you’re probably already aware of COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations. However, not all hazardous substances are easy to identify and many employers are unaware of their responsibilities under the law. In this beginner’s guide to COSHH assessments, our expert advisors will outline your legal duties as an employer and explain how to identify and assess risks in the workplace. Gaining a better understanding of the COSHH regulations will ensure that your business is legally compliant and that your workers are safe. 

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. Under this law, employers have a legal duty to prevent or reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive recommends the following actions:

  • Identify health hazards;
  • Determine how to prevent harm to health by conducting a COSHH risk assessment;
  • Implement control measures to reduce harm to health;
  • Monitor and enforce the use of control measures;
  • Maintain control measures and address any issues as they arise;
  • Provide adequate information and training for employees and workplace visitors;
  • Provide monitoring and health surveillance where necessary; and
  • Plan for emergencies.

How Do I Identify Substances That are “Hazardous to Health”?

There is a wide range of substances that may fall under the remit of COSHH. These include:

  • chemicals;
  • fumes;
  • dusts;
  • vapours;
  • mists;
  • nanotechnology;
  • gases;
  • biological agents; and
  • germs that cause disease.

Many businesses across industries use substances or products that fall into these categories. It’s not just owners of construction sites and chemical plants that need to be mindful of controlling hazardous substances. Professions as diverse as dentistry and hairdressing involve the use of potentially harmful substances that employees must be protected from. Furthermore, some workers are tasked with implementing processes that create these potentially harmful substances.

CLP hazard pictograms can help to identify the potential risk of harm to people’s or the environment. However, remember that hazards and risks are not limited to substances that are labelled as “hazardous”. If a substance could cause harm to an individual, it is likely to fall under the remit of COSHH. However, asbestos, lead and radioactive substances are not covered by the legislation as they have their own specific regulations covering their use.

To assist with this process we have provided a free chemical inventory register.  Download a copy of the register based on your version of excel.  Latest version or older version.

How Can I Identify and Assess the Risk?

A COSHH risk assessment should identify all hazardous substances being used and accurately assess the risk to human health. 

The first step of making an assessment is to conduct a “walk through” of the work premises and identify any potential for exposure to hazardous substances.  Use the chemical inventory register (see above) to document these substances.

Next, consider what risk the substances pose to health and who will be exposed to the risk.  Certain tasks may have a higher risk of exposure than others making some workers more susceptible to harm if their role focuses on this activity. 

Finally, review the company’s record of onsite accidents to identify any particular areas of high risk. There may be a greater risk of particular types or injury or some work areas may be more hazardous than others.

The responsibility of accurately identifying and assessing the risk of harm to employees at work can be a daunting one for employers. If workers are not adequately protected and an accident occurs, this can result in life-changing injuries for the individual and significant financial consequences for the business. In 2016/1, employers paid out £5.2 billion for costs relating to workplace injuries and fatalities. 

Seeking the advice and guidance of a professional health and safety expert can bring peace of mind that every precaution is in place to protect your workers and your business.

How Can We Help?

Howlett Health & Safety Services was established in 2010 by Ray Howlett who has over 30 years’ of experience providing occupational health and safety services. Our COSHH risk assessments will identify all hazardous substances in your workplace and accurately assess risk based on how those substances are being used and the controls you have in place to mitigate risk. We also offer COSHH Awareness Training to help your employees to understand how hazardous substances can cause harm and how they can handle hazardous substances safely. This training will provide a good understanding of the assessment process.  We provide learning resources that are easy to remember and put into practice. 


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