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An Employers Guide to COSHH

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to protect the health and well-being of your employees. Every year, hazardous substances may cause adverse health effects among workers, and you need to ensure you protect staff from these risks.

Poor health can significantly increase absenteeism and decrease the profits of your business. Not to mention the impact accidents have on morale, productivity and even retention 

That’s why health and safety is so important in the workplace. There are an enormous number of substances that can be hazardous to your employees and to some people you may not be aware of. This includes chemicals, dust and fume or other substances harmful to health which you may not be aware of.

This is where COSHH comes in. Specifically, COSHH risk assessment.

But what does COSHH mean and how do you protect your employees from chemicals? We explore the requirements, so you can stay compliant and host an efficient and healthy workplace.

If you’re looking for immediate advice on managing health & safety in your workplace, contact Croner today at 0800 141 3814. Our expert consultants are on hand to help you create policies and procedures and can conduct risk assessments to guarantee the safety of your workforce.

Read on to learn more about COSHH specifically and how it’s beneficial for your business.

hazardous substances, with personal protective equipment designed to reduce exposure to the substances.

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for ‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’ and is required by law. COSHH regulations require an employer to control these substances.

A COSHH assessment concentrates on hazardous substances and highlights areas where control measures are needed to keep employees and other people safe.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002), the law requires employers to either prevent, reduce, or at the very least, control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health for their workers.

It is therefore an extremely broad yet detailed piece of legislation and will be different for every business. There are several substances that can be harmful to employees, and the list is too exhaustive for even the Health and Safety Executive to fully define.

Why is COSHH important?

Workers could suffer from lung disease, cancer, and skin disease because of chemical substances. These diseases cost millions of pounds each year to society, industry, and of course, the individuals affected.

COSHH aims to keep employees out of harm’s way and reduce the number of work-related injuries and health conditions across the UK.

Breaching these regulations puts your workers at risk of harm and ill health, and non-compliance is also a crime that could result in prosecution.

By following the COSHH Regulations, a company can save money and be more effective by not having to replace trained workers – improving productivity and also cutting waste. Ensuring that workers stay healthy can also lead to healthy profits. Good health is good business.

Substances covered by COSHH

COSHH substances are hazardous to health. As mentioned before, there’s such a vast number of substances that come under the umbrella of COSHH, that it’s too difficult to list them all. For a more comprehensive list, take a look at the government’s legislation. COSHH relies on a risk assessment to identify these substances in the workplace.

What hazardous substances are covered by COSHH?

The substances covered by COSHH can be divided into broader categories, such as:

  1. Chemicals.
  2. Products containing chemicals.
  3. Fumes.
  4. Dust.
  5. Vapours.
  6. Mists.
  7. Nanotechnology.
  8. Gasses and asphyxiating gasses.
    1. Biological agents (germs – If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols, then it is classed as a hazardous substance.)

Are there any substances not covered by COSHH?


  1. Lead.
  2. Asbestos.
  3. Radioactive substances.

These hazardous substances have their own set of specific regulations and control measures that employers must follow.

COSHH symbols and meanings

Placed on the packaging of hazardous substances, COSHH symbols are there to tell you about the type of hazard a substance presents. We may classify a substance as one or more of the following nine types:

  1. Explosives.
  2. Flammable.
  3. Oxidising.
  4. Gas under pressure.
  5. Corrosive.
  6. Toxic.
  7. Health hazards.
  8. Serious health hazards.
  9. Dangerous for the environment.

These names are not the official names given to each symbol. In fact, the regulations give each symbol a range of meanings. So, we may know some categories by a couple of names, for example, we sometimes refer to health hazards as ‘caution’.

a control measure sign keep employees safe from the hazardous substances

COSHH responsibilities

COSHH health and safety legislation requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to employee health and anyone who comes to your premises. Control measures must be implemented and monitored by a competent person with appropriate training.

Each workplace is different and will need its own processes. However, to ensure some standardisation that protects employees, there are some essential COSHH responsibilities.

COSHH legislation outlines responsibilities for both employees and employers to ensure a safe working environment for everyone.

Employers responsibilities:

Employers have the responsibility to educate and inform staff on how to complete tasks safely and supply the correct equipment.

  1. Keep regular observations for tasks which involve these substances.
  2. Provide the right health care and checks for staff, whilst in contact with substances.
  3. Supply PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), such as eye protection and noise protection equipment. (Also check if the fit is appropriate for workers and whether any PPE needs replacing).
  4. Check employees are carrying out tasks as they are supposed to. For example, are they wearing the correct PPE? Are they handling the substances correctly?
  5. Prevent and control employees’ exposure to any hazardous substances.
  6. Supplying adequate COSHH training to staff.
  7. Provide accident plans for when accidents happen.
  8. Provide COSHH risk assessments.

Employee responsibilities:

Employees have the responsibility to ensure that they conduct their daily tasks safely and don’t cause harm to themselves or others. They should consider:

  1. Helping their employees create a safe working environment and abide by the regulations set in the workplace.
  2. Following the procedures put in place to stop accidents and overexposure which causes harm.
  3. Wearing the correct PPE, such as eye protection and noise protection.
  4. Ensuring the PPE is stored correctly and returned to its correct storage facilities.
  5. Correctly reporting any accidents/spillages/breakages of equipment etc.
  6. Attending medical check-ups. (Some workplaces provide medical check-ups to ensure their workers are safe while working with hazardous substances).
  7. Using any cleaning and showering facilities that are provided by employers.
  8. Keeping up to date with training provided.

COSHH risk assessments

As part of this obligation, you must carry out a COSHH risk assessment for the work activities and working environment, and eliminate or reduce the risks to your employees. This risk assessment should be reviewed annually to ensure that it’s kept up to date.

When accidents occur, you must report them to the appropriate authority. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is the governing body responsible for health & safety in the workplace.

You are probably already aware of countless risks in your trade or industry. A COSHH assessment concentrates on the hazards and risks from substances in your workplace.

a competent person filling out a safety data sheets

What are the 5 Steps to a COSHH assessment?

These are the steps for making a COSHH assessment and questions needed when assessing risks in your workplace:

Step 1 – Identify hazards

The first step of your COSHH risk assessment should be identifying where the different hazards are in your business.

You will find the information on the product labels or on the safety data sheet.

At this stage, you should also consider the harmful substances that are produced in your processes. For example, when cutting or grinding materials you will be producing dust.

Step 2 – Who might be harmed and how?

At this stage, you should look into how your employers will be exposed. Are they breathing in the substances? Is it coming into contact with their skin or eyes? Can it be swallowed?

You should be looking at how often and how long your employees are working with the substances. Consider how the hazards are affecting other people, and who else outside your business may be exposed. That might be accidental or if they are working with them for prolonged periods of time.

Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide on control measures

After completing the COSHH assessment you should evaluate the risks and what control measures should be in place to better protect your employees.

There are a few questions you can ask to mitigate risks.

  1. Do you need to use hazardous substances, or can you use a safer alternative?
  2. Can you change your process to eliminate the substance or avoid using it?

A few of the control measures you can put in place.

Changing your processes to reduce risk

Can you change your processes to help reduce exposure? For example, you could reduce the process temperature to limit the amount of vapour produced or through ventilation masks and other forms of PPE.


Could you create a specific contained area for harmful substances? This will help reduce the number of substances being breathed in or affecting your employees.

Could you change the way emissions are released into the environment? Installing equipment to strip the harmful substances from emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.

Systems of working

Look into how you can restrict access to certain areas of your workplace where hazardous substances are being used or produced. Particularly to those without appropriate training. You should ensure that substances are stored properly, clearly labelled and kept in the appropriate containers.


Ensuring your workplace is clean can help prevent people from breathing in or being affected by hazardous substances. Changing work surfaces to smooth worktops can make them easier to clean and avoid substances from becoming trapped.

You should ensure that your team has the appropriate equipment to clean spillages quickly and safely. Any accidents must be recorded in an accident book.

Step 4 – Record findings

As you are completing the COSHH assessment process you should record the hazards you find, and what measures you put in place to limit exposure.

Step 5 – Monitor

You should ensure you monitor the results of your COSHH assessment, this will help you identify areas that still need to be improved, or highlight new risks.

This will help you ensure that your employees remain safe while they are working with potentially harmful substances.

Expert support on health and safety at work and COSHH with Croner

Croner offers practical COSHH training to keep your workers safe, whatever position they work in. We offer manual handling assessment training, practical training, and more.

It is essential you correctly manage health and safety at work to stay both legally compliant and profitable. With Croner’s help, you can ensure your staff are professionally trained, avoid accidents before they occur, and protect your business from risk.

So, for answers to all your COSHH questions, support with employee training, or advice on any other health & safety topic, speak to one of our experts today on 0800 141 3814.