What are the COSHH regulations and how can you be sure you abide by them?

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    If your business uses any type of chemicals or hazardous substances, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) applies in your work environment to protect employees, contractors and anyone else who might come into contact with the potentially hazardous materials.

    Keep reading to find out more about COSHH regulations and how to adhere to the legislation correctly.

    Why is adhering to COSHH standards important?

    Keeping chemicals in storage can hold many risks from dangerous leaks to devastating explosions.

    Many substances fall under the COSHH regulations including, but not limited to, biological agents, fumes, asphyxiating gases and many types of chemicals. You will need to keep chemicals in secure COSHH cabinets.

    The unsafe storage of chemicals has both direct and indirect impacts on people’s health. For example, if contained incorrectly, fumes and gases can escape, which can have short-term effects such as burns and headaches and long-term effects including lifelong breathing problems and fatal injuries.

    The environment is also an important factor to consider regarding safe storage. Once a chemical is spilled, contamination occurs and there is no way of reversing it. This can adversely impact soil, plants and wildlife.

    And even though many chemicals tend to have a long lifespan, storing them all according to COSHH regulations allows you to keep an eye on how much shelf life they have left. This can help to improve stock control, reduce environmental waste and save you money in the long run, too.

    What are the key COSHH principles?

    The guidance outlined by COSHH aims to prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances. This can be done in a number of ways including:

    • finding out what the health hazards are by conducting a risk assessment
    • providing control measures to reduce harm to health
    • keeping all control measures in good working order
    • providing information, instruction and training for employees and others
    • planning for emergencies

    What does a COSHH risk assessment include?

    A risk assessment is required under the COSHH regulations to make sure your workplace is as safe as possible. It concentrates on the potential risks and hazards that chemicals within your workplace could cause. When conducting a risk assessment there are four questions that you should ask yourself:

    1.      When walking around your workplace, can you spot any potential for exposure to substances that might be hazardous to health? This could include processes that emit dust, fumes, vapour, mist or gas.

    2.      How are these substances harmful? This information can be obtained by reading the datasheet of the substance or contacting the manufacturer.

    3.      What job types could lead to exposure? Make sure to write these down, including any control measures that are already in place to reduce possible exposure.

    4.      Are there any areas of concern? This includes information from the accident logbook which could include burns from leaked or spilled liquids to nausea or dizziness after using solvents.

    How can I be sure to abide by COSHH principles?

    Segregated chemical storage

    Different types of substances need to be stored separately from each other for safety reasons. This includes keeping flammable substances away from any possible sources of ignition, strong acids away from organic substances and oxidising substances apart from oxidisable materials.

    The easiest way to do this is by using specialised cabinets such as COSHH cabinets. These ensure that any spills of dangerous chemicals are caught through the use of absorbent materials and therefore do not pose any risk to members of staff or the environment.

    Tightly sealed chemical containers

    All chemical containers should be tightly sealed and kept off the floor on pallets or easy-access shelves. Containers should never be stored higher than eye level on racks to avoid staff having to reach for them. All racking and shelving should be securely attached to walls and storage areas should have purpose-built drains and spillage barriers in place ahead of transfer.

    Managing chemical inventory

    At least once every year trained personnel should undertake a complete inventory of every cabinet or area in which chemicals are stored. This is to ensure that all substances are within their expiry date and that each hazardous chemical is clearly labelled.

    COSHH symbols are placed on cabinets to identify their risk. There are nine different ones, which are:

    • Long-term health hazard
    • Explosive
    • Toxic
    • Flammable
    • Oxidising
    • Corrosive
    • Compressed gas
    • Danger to the environment

    All the symbols are diamond in shape and red and black in colour with easy to understand, globally recognised  illustrations on them. 

    Controlling temperature

    This factor is very important, and the correct storage temperature needs to be identified before a substance is put into storage. Keeping chemicals at a very low temperature can cause containers to crack, and very high temperatures can lead to chemicals overheating, which leads to disastrous consequences.

    To avoid this only use purpose-built refrigeration units for chemical storage, with the monitoring and logging of temperatures occurring on a regular basis. 

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