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Understanding the importance of chemical safety in the workplace

Understanding the importance of chemical safety in the workplace Midlands Health and Safety Consultancy

CoSHH, or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, is a set of UK regulations aimed at protecting workers from the harmful effects of chemicals used in the workplace. These regulations require employers to assess the risks associated with hazardous substances and to implement appropriate controls to minimise the risk of exposure. Our latest article looks at understanding the importance of chemical safety in the workplace and how to implement a safe practices.

Why is chemical safety important?

There are four different ways chemicals can enter the body. These are:

  • Inhalation: Chemicals that take form in gas, vapour or particulates are easily inhaled. These chemicals can absorb into the respiratory tract, and can head into the bloodstream and organs. This is often noted as the most common way the body absorbs harmful chemicals.
  • Skin/Eye absorption: Chemical contact with skin can result in mild dermatitis, or a rash. However, chemicals can also be absorbed into the bloodstream this way. Eyes are also sensitive to most chemicals, so safety glasses must be worn when conducting work with chemicals. Another common scenario that causes eye contact to chemicals (especially if not wearing appropriate safety glasses) is wiping or rubbing at your eyes during chemical exposure.
  • Ingestion: Like with inhalation or skin/eye absorption, ingestion can cause the toxic chemicals to travel to the organs. When conducting work in areas where ingestion is likely, like confined spaces, it’s important to have an entry & exit plan, and the proper PPE for the job. This can also be transmitted by food if not washing your hands after chemical use.
  • Injection: This doesn’t necessarily mean directly injecting chemicals into your bloodstream, but if you have manual handling of glass, needles, blades etc, a cut or other tear in the skin, chemicals can be absorbed this way.

 

Assessment

As an employer you have a legal duty to promote safety in the workplace and reduce any risks to the health of all your employees. Part of your responsibility requires undertaking a COSHH assessment if there are any hazardous substances present on your work premises. Hazardous substances can exist in almost every workplace, including cleaning products and solvents through to exhaust fumes or dust to name just a few. Employers and the self-employed  must assess any risk through a COSHH assessment to protect anyone that may come into contact with any hazardous substances within your workplace.

If your business doesn’t take the right steps to protect people then you could receive cautions, prohibition or improvement notices and fines. Your approval to operate could even be withdrawn by the Health and Safety Executive or your local authority and for serious breaches you could face legal action including high category fines and/or a custodial sentence.

The COSHH Assessment should consist of the following:

  • Collect information about the substances used in your workplace and your work practices.
  • Evaluate the health risks related to these substances and practices.
  • Choose appropriate control measures that will reduce or eliminate these risks to your employees and visitors
  • Implement control measures and record your findings.
  • Compile and submit your findings in a report with recommendations.

Storage

Avoiding accidents involving any kind of hazardous substance involves more than just good handling and working procedures. How you store hazardous products or chemicals is just as important as how you use them. Correct storage methods must be followed for any substance that is categorised as being flammable, toxic, corrosive, an irritant, or otherwise harmful according to COSHH regulations. The COSHH regulations recommend that businesses should store only the minimum amount of a hazardous substance required to complete tasks. When any hazardous substance has been used for a task, it should be returned to the storage area immediately.

Hazardous substances should be kept in the original containers. If this is not possible, they must be stored in a clearly labelled container that is fit for purpose. Hazardous substances must never be kept in containers that have a dual purpose, for example, containers that can also be used for eating or drinking. Any storage instructions on the product or chemical’s safety data sheet (SDS) must be followed exactly.

Training

Employers must ensure that workers who handle chemicals are trained in the proper handling procedures and that they use appropriate personal protective equipment. This should always form part of your induction training but It is also a good idea to do periodic toolbox talks on CoSHH and any particularly dangerous substance in the workplace, to refresh the knowledge of employees about the risks.

For further information on understanding the importance of chemical safety in the workplace, please contact us here.

 

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