My employer gives us gloves. Is that enough?

No. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 (COSHH), gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks should only be used as a last resort.

Your employer must do a risk assessment (see workSMART's Hazards and Risks section), decide what precautions they need to take, and then prevent or adequately control your exposure.

The Regulations expect employers to use a 'hierarchy of controls', which means that in the first instance your employer should:

  • change the work process to eliminate the chemical;
  • substitute the chemical for a safer one;
  • protect you from exposure to it by enclosing the process; and
  • provide adequate ventilation.

Only then should your employer rely on PPE to prevent exposure.

For certain chemicals, the law sets a limit on the amount you should be exposed to. These chemicals and their workplace exposure limits (WELs) are listed in Health and Safety Executive booklet EH40. Whether or not a chemical is listed in EH40 depends on whether enough is known about its effects to set an exposure limit, so there are many substances not listed in EH40 that are also harmful to your health.

Special requirements apply to your employer if you use lead, asbestos or chemicals that cause cancer (called 'carcinogens').

Your employer also has special legal duties to protect new or expectant mothers. See workSMART's Women's Health section for more information.

Good hygiene is important if you work with chemicals. You should not eat, drink or smoke in areas where chemicals are used (smoking is now banned in enclosed public places in the UK), and you should always wash your hands after leaving the area.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.