Hazardous substances are responsible for illness in thousands of workers every year, and can cause a number of serious conditions such as asthma, cancer and skin disease. It is essential that employers take precautionary measures to protect their workers from these substances.
Keep reading for our advice on how to take control in your workplace and reduce the risk!
1. Identify harmful substances in your workplace
It is important to closely consider all substances that you work with – even those that may appear to be harmless. Even everyday materials can have dangerous properties if used in a certain way, for example they may be flammable, or cause respiratory issues when inhaled.
You can confirm if any substances are harmful by checking any information that came with a product, asking the supplier, researching in the trade press, or using the HSE website.
2. Consider the task
Look at any tasks that involve hazardous substances – in what ways would this task mean your workers may be exposed? Is there a way to modify the task to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure?
3. Consider potential types of exposure
There are a number of ways workers may be exposed to hazardous substances. These include:
- breathing in gases, fumes, mist or dust
- contact with the skin
- contact with the eyes
- skin puncture
Some substances may be harmless in one form, but dangerous in another – check substances to make sure you know what forms are harmful, and what methods of exposure are problematic.
4. Conduct risk assessments
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 require that employers must assess the risk of exposure to their employees, and prevent or adequately control those risks. To complete a risk assessment, you will need to know by what method workers could be exposed, and how much they could potentially be exposed to. This will help you to decide what control measures you need to implement.
5. Choose control measures
There are a number of ways to control the risk of hazardous substance exposure – in order of priority, these are:
- Eliminate the use of a hazardous substance and replace with a safer one
- Use a safer form of the product
- Change the process so that less of the substances is emitted
- Enclose the process so that the product does not leave the area
- Extract substance emissions near the source
- Have as few workers involved as possible
- Provide PPE
Choose the control measures that suit the risk you have identified, following the above hierarchy.
6. Check and maintain your controls
Control measures should be regularly checked to ensure that they are still effective and working as they should.
This is particularly important where equipment is involved, such as exhaust ventilation or personal protective equipment. Both require regular checking and maintenance, because if they stop working as they should they no longer provide protection and can expose workers to danger.
7. Ensure competence
When controls are designed, installed, maintained and tested, it is essential that the person doing so has the correct competencies. This includes having the necessary skills and qualifications, knowledge, and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask!
8. Provide sufficient training, instruction and information
You should provide your workers with:
- A proper explanation of the dangers
- Knowledge of how to use control measures and check them properly
- Opportunity to carry out practice drills for cleaning spills safely
- Face fitting and training for those who need respirators
- How to put on and remove protective gloves without contaminating the skin
9. Monitor exposure
After controls have been implemented, monitoring is used to ensure that it is adequate. This may mean sampling the air, taking biological samples from workers, or wiping surfaces to check the spread of contamination.
In order for controls to be deemed satisfactory, exposure levels must not exceed the ‘Workplace Exposure Limits’ (WELs) published by HSE.
10. Carry out health checks
Health surveillance should be carried out when:
- The substance in use is associated with a disease
- It is possible to detect the disease and reduce risk of further harm
- The disease is likely to appear due to conditions in the workplace
It is a regular assessment of aspects of a workers health, the results of which must be interpreted into actions to control exposure.
Asbestos Awareness and Control of Hazardous Substances (COSHH) training courses are essential tools in protecting your workers from the effects of harmful substances. Make sure you don’t miss out on our 10% off deal on these courses, available until the end of April. Simply enter the code ‘hazardous10’ at checkout to save!
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