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Focus on hazardous substances at work

BY Lee Craig
Health & Safety

HSE has released a new guide to preventing exposure to harmful substances that provides an overview of some of the key steps to take to prevent exposure to harmful substances.

One of the most common and serious risks to the health and safety of people at work is exposure to hazardous substances, e.g. skin damage from repeated contact with chemicals, or serious and fatal lung diseases caused by inhaling harmful dusts, gases, fumes and vapours.

Careful assessment of the risks and implementing suitable precautions can eliminate or control the risk of suffering ill health.

Ill health risks can arise from a wide range of hazardous substances including: -

  • Cleaners and catering staff –from solvents found in cleaning materials
  • Engineering workers –inhalation of fumes, dusts and gases during tasks such as welding, soldering, cutting, abrasive blasting and machining metals; skin damage from contact with lubricants, adhesives, degreasers and metalworking fluids
  • Construction workers –harmful airborne substances, such as silica dust from cutting concrete, bricks and mortar; asbestos fibres present in buildings; fumes from epoxy resins and solvent vapour from some paints, thinners and glues; and skin exposure to harmful substances, such as wet cement, degreasers, bitumen and solvents in some paints and glues
  • Woodworkers, such as carpenters and joiners – can breathe in or suffer skin exposure to substances such as wood dusts, adhesives and varnishes
  • Beauticians –dermatitis from skin contact with solvents in nail varnish removers; and chest wheezing, chest tightness and asthma from inhaling dust filings from artificial nails, for example
  • Bakers –inhale flour dust, or dusts from ingredients such as soya.

The guidance is available at  and covers areas including:

  • Assessing the risks
  • Controlling exposure
  • Control measures
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Information and training
  • Monitoring and surveillance
  • Consultation and review
  • Skin problems
  • Flammable substances
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