The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) cover almost every workplace from offices, where hazardous substances such as chemicals in photocopier toner are used, to factories where any number of substances covered by the Regulations may be used or produced.
The Regulations require employers to conduct a risk assessment and stipulate what measures of control and maximum time of exposure is permitted for employees. They also require employers to monitor employees' health, monitor the use of hazardous substances and ensure training of employees.
The Regulations state that an employer shall not carry on any work which is liable to expose employees or other persons on the premises to any substance hazardous to health unless an assessment of the risks to health and of the steps which need to be taken has been carried out.
They define substances hazardous to health as:
- substances classified as 'very toxic, 'toxic', 'harmful', 'corrosive' or 'irritant';
- substances for which there is a workplace exposure limit (WEL);
- micro-organisms arising from the work activity which create a hazard to health;
- dust of any kind when present at a substantial concentration in the air; and
- substances which create a hazard comparable with that created by the categories of substance listed above.
The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) stipulates the hierarchy of measures of prevention and control of exposure, as follows:
- elimination; or where this is not practicable,
- substitution with a less hazardous substance, or the same substance in a less hazardous form;
- control measures, e.g. local exhaust ventilation; and, if no other method of control is practicable,
- by the provision of personal protective clothing.
The Regulations require that, in all cases, prevention or adequate control of exposure should be achieved by means other than personal protective clothing, so far as is reasonably practicable.
The Regulations also specify controls on certain fumigations, and require exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) to be prevented or controlled by using alternative substances or processes and enclosed work systems, safe warning signs and minimising the number of people exposed.
There are separate regulations covering asbestos, lead and ionising radiations. The COSHH Regulations do, however, apply to some fumigations.