How Do I Carry Out a COSHH Assessment?
In this article we answer the question “How to carry out a COSHH assessment?” and detail step by step the procedure you need to follow in order to carry out a COSHH assessment.
Many businesses expose their employees to substances that are hazardous to health, also known as COSHH substances. These hazardous substances come in many forms; chemicals, products containing chemicals, fumes, dust, vapours, mists, gases, biological agents and solids. Many are products that are used as part of a task, but often the hazardous substance is generated during the work process, for example, welding fumes or dust generated during woodworking. Often these by-products of a work process are forgotten and not properly assessed. Another area that gets left out is naturally occurring substances such as bird droppings, dust from grains and flour or biological hazards.
Employers must make sure that they identify all the hazardous substances that employees will encounter in the workplace and carry out a risk assessment for each one.
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The Risk Assessment Process
Firstly, the employer should identify the COSHH substances in the workplace. This should go beyond opening the chemical cupboard and making a list. Employers should look at all the work processes they ask their employees to carry out and identify substances that may be generated or encountered during the task. For example, a hotel cleaner may be exposed to biohazards when changing beds or cleaning bathrooms. An employee who works outdoors may be exposed to stagnant water or water that contains leptospirosis. A carpenter will generate fine wood dust.
Once the employer has a comprehensive list of substances, the next step is to carry out a risk assessment, otherwise known as a COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessment.
This will identify the risks to your employees’ health from being exposed to the substance in question. This document should be compiled in conjunction with the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which the manufacturer of the product should provide. Alternatively, in the case of generated or naturally occurring substances guidance from another reference source will be required.
It is important that the route of exposure is identified and how the product is used and the environment it is used in. The amount of exposure from the use of a solvent would be far greater in a confined space than outside on a windy day. Application methods will also make a difference, is the product applied with a spray gun or a brush for example. This may mean that several COSHH assessments are required for each substance, depending upon how the product is used and where. All this information is required before deciding which control measures are required.
The employer should choose control measures based on the hierarchy of control; the measures at the top being much more effective in keeping employees safe than those at the bottom.
The top control measure on the hierarchy is to avoid the use of the substance altogether, however, this is often impossible to achieve. The next best option is substitution. This could be the use of a less hazardous alternative or an alternative process that uses the same substance but in a safer format, for example, pellet form rather than powder or maybe a ready-mixed version.
Enclosure and isolation are both control measures that either eliminate or reduce the amount of physical contact employees have with the substance. This could be through the use of fume cupboards, specialised booths or rooms, pipework and glove boxes.
Extraction and ventilation involve the removal of noxious fumes and dust. Extraction is the preferable option. This requires the use of mechanical extractors that are sited as close as possible to the source in order that the fumes or dust can be removed before they escape to the wider atmosphere. Ventilation is a more general solution which requires the creation of airflow through the area, either by natural air currents or by the use of forced ventilation.
Implementing controlling procedures is next. This involves adequate supervision and training, job rotation to reduce employee exposure, maintenance of equipment, good personal hygiene and housekeeping practices.
Finally, to many employers’ surprise, the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) is at the bottom of the hierarchy of control and should be used as a last resort. This is because it is the control measure that is most likely to fail. If PPE is provided care must be taken to ensure that it is the correct specification, fits the employee properly and a clean, dry place is provided to store it when not in use.
Whichever of the above control measures you decide on, you must monitor it to ensure that it remains the most effective and appropriate way of controlling the risk.
What The Law Says
The Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 (Regulation 3) says that employers must assess risks to employees from work activities. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 require employers to carry out risk assessments, monitoring of exposure and health surveillance.