Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations

Employers are required to keep their workers safe from harm in the workplace, especially when they are exposed to substances that may be hazardous to human health.

Handling hazardous substances in an unsafe manner exposes workers to a number of short-term and long-term health problems. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) places legal obligations on employers to control exposure to hazardous substances with a view to minimising the risk.

See also:

Hazardous substances compensation claims

What are hazardous substances?

A hazardous substance is anything that has the ability to compromise human health. It includes toxic substances used directly in the workplace (such as cleaning chemicals) as well as substances that may arise during a job (such as gas, dust or fumes).

Handling, inhaling and ingesting hazardous substances can cause a variety of health-harming conditions. These may range from relatively minor injuries, such as the cleaner who accidentally splashes his hand with bleach, to very serious lung diseases caused by repeated exposure to dust and fibres.

What duties does COSHH place on employers?

Employers have a legal duty to implement good health and safety practices around hazardous substances. In short, they must:

  • identify hazardous substances
  • assess the risk of using the substance in a particular situation
  • decide what safety precautions are needed
  • train employees about the proper use of safety measures
  • for significant risks, remove the risk or reducing it to insignificant levels.

Some of the things an employer might do to limit the risk include changing the activity so that a hazardous substance is not required or enclosing the work process in a closed system. Employers might also look at improving ventilation systems or issuing personal protective equipment such as breathing apparatus to workers exposed to hazardous substances.

My employer hasn't carried out a proper risk assessment-what can I do?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has the power to prosecute most employers that fail to observe COSHH and other health and safety legislation. Complaints may be made online. Trade union safety officials also have the right to investigate potential hazards in the workplace.

If you have suffered injury, respiratory infection or other illnesses as a result of exposure to hazardous substances at work, you can make a claim for compensation against your employer. This is not a direct claim under COSHH. Instead, you would file a personal injury claim and show that your employer failed to take reasonable care for your safety.

When assessing your case, the Judge would look at COSHH as a guide for deciding whether your employer failed to comply with his legal duties.
How can Quittance help?

Quittance's expert group of solicitors are experienced in dealing with many industrial disease cases. If you have suffered as a result of exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace, contact Quittance on free phone 0800 376 1001 or complete an online form and we will call you back at a time that is convenient for you.

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher