What exactly are Substances Hazardous to Health?

Home Articles ADVICE & GUIDANCE What exactly are Substances Hazardous to Health?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) aim to protect workers and others from the harmful health effects of substances used at work.

These hazardous substances can be used directly in work activities (e.g. adhesives, paints, cleaning agents); or be generated during work activities (e.g. fumes from soldering and welding); or comprise naturally occurring substances (e.g. grain dust and microorganisms). They can take many forms including; chemical, fumes, dusts, vapours, mists, gases ect.

What do I need to do?

To comply with Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) you must:

  • Assess the risks
  • Decide what precautions are needed
  • Prevent or adequately control exposure
  • Ensure that control measures are used and maintained
  • Monitor the exposure
  • Carry out appropriate health surveillance
  • Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies
  • Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised

How do I get information on the substances I use?

You can find relevant information about most Hazardous Substances from their Safety data sheets – sometimes known as a Material or Chemical safety data sheet.

Safety Data sheets describe the hazards the chemical presents, and give information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of accident. They can be sourced from the supplier and in most cases are available from the manufacturer’s website. Safety Data sheets are an essential tool when completing a COSHH risk assessment – they are not a risk assessment in themselves!

The products you use may have a label that has one or more hazard symbols. Since 2009, new international symbols (red and white diamond) have been gradually replacing the European (orange and Black Square) symbols. You should no longer see any of the old labelling styles on the market.

Not all COSHH substances are ‘chemicals’, COSHH also covers other hazardous substances such as dust or biological agents (bacteria and other micro-organisms) if they are directly connected with work, (such as farming, sewage treatment, or healthcare.) Information about those substances is available from others sources, particularly the HSE’s website.  

COSHH does not deal with lead or asbestos. These substances are covered by the ‘Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012’ and the ‘Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002’. These regulations contain the applicable standards and responsibilities for controlling exposure to these substances.


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