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Control of Substances Hazardous to Health…Safety Control…or an Admin Exercise?

Health & Safety
BG Orange

We were asked recently by a client for a simple summary of where some businesses go in a wrong direction when trying to ensure the control of substances in the workplace.

Here are some of our thoughts:

Mistake 1 – A collection of datasheets (Material Safety Data Sheets)
Sometimes organisations think that a collection of datasheets is a COSHH assessment. Wrong!

We are required to assess the possible risks from each substance depending upon how it is used in the workplace; then put appropriate measures in place to control the risks, train persons likely to come into contact with the substance and to periodically verify that the control measures work. 

Mistake 2 – A perfect set of COSHH assessments sitting on the shelf
In a pristine folder or on “my” computer, while people who use the substances don't know anything about them. This is not a workable solution.

We need to communicate to our employees, who use the substances, the possible hazards, health effects (over short or long term time period), the safety controls and emergency measures to take, in the event of an incident.

Mistake 3 – Getting distracted by trivia
Sometimes control measures for a “carcinogen” can get lost in a large collection of data sheets. If we assess every substance, then apart from the effort involved, we will end up with an unworkable system where the critical substances are masked by the trivial ones.

Mistake 4 – Failure to follow the hierarchy of control measures
There is a hierarchy of control measures we need to follow, removal, substitution (with another less hazardous substance), automatic dosing, separation from other substances, pre-dilution and finally as a last resort PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

Often, we put effort into the middle and lower order control measures and never consider substitution.

Where a substance is an inherent part of work process, substitution may be unrealistic. There are numerous solvents and cleaning substances in use, where less hazardous alternatives are available.

Mistake 5 – Unrealistic use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
People at work need to "buy into" the practices around hazardous substances.

We need to make sure that people wear eye/face protection (facial visors) when handling a substance that has a serious risk of eye damage. Datasheets sometimes recommend PPE, even when there is no effect. 

Law At Work are available to review your COSHH Assessment to help alleviate Mistakes. Please contact our Health and Safety Support Team.

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