In many workplaces, there is often a necessity to handle dangerous substances that can cause both short-term hazards and long-term health implications for workers. Getting the right procedures and behavioural safety practices in place is crucial when it comes to keeping these substances and chemicals safely managed. Whilst this can be done over time, with the right behavioural nudges, a good base understanding of what to do when handling chemicals is needed, both for you and your workers.
COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) attempts to provide a framework for managing these substances. In today’s article, we will be looking specifically at some of the COSHH chemicals and what the regulations recommend you do when handling these dangerous substances.
What are the dangers posed by COSHH chemicals?
Dangers, as mentioned, can present both short- and long-term hazards. Some of the issues that can arise when COSHH chemicals are not properly controlled are burns, which can cause permanent damage to the skin and eye damage. These are two exterior health issues that must be considered, and this is why many advocate the use of PPE for managing substances.
One of the lesser-known implications of long-term chemical exposure can be asthma and dangerous lung damage. Skin allergies have often been reported when workers have been exposed to certain chemicals.
Managing exposure to these chemicals is one of the main aims of the COSHH regulations and you as an employer must consider them when developing your strategy or filling out a COSHH risk assessment.
What are some rules of best practice to follow?
When it comes to complying with the COSHH regulations regarding chemicals, a comprehensive but common-sense approach is needed.
Where possible, you should try and make sure that chemicals are stored correctly. This involves keeping them stored in a cool dry area that has been well maintained and cleaned. Additionally, efforts should be made to keep the storage area secure so that vulnerable persons like children cannot easily access the chemicals.
COSHH also requires chemicals to be kept in their original containers. This helps inspectors and staff identify the chemicals and avoid cross-contamination. It also means those using the chemicals have access to the instructions normally found on the packaging.
Another useful tip to follow is to always keep the workplace as ventilated as it can be. Not only will this help in regards to COSHH compliance, but it will also help to prevent long term hazards from affecting your employees. In addition to ventilation COSHH also requires suitable PPE to be worn when the chemicals are being handled. PPE acts as a good ‘last line of defence’ when the exposure to the hazard has been minimised as much as it possibly can.
Whilst PPE and ventilation is important, correct standard hygiene practices can also help when you are managing the control of chemical exposure. Keeping hand-wash stations accessible and stocked helps to lessen the risk of workers developing long term dermatological issues from excessive chemical exposure.
Key mistakes to avoid when managing COSHH chemicals
It is always better to exercise caution when it comes to safeguarding your workers form potentially hazardous chemicals and substances. The tips outlined in the previous section will help you do that. But you also need to consider some of the common mistakes we see when managing these chemicals.
1. Do not store COSHH chemicals in the wrong containers
As eluded to earlier, you should avoid putting any chemicals in containers that they were not designed for like drinking bottles and food containers. Not only will keeping chemicals in the correct container give users access to the labelled instructions, using a different container with an insecure lid could easily lead to an incident.
2. Do not place a chemical container on high shelves
Naturally, objects on higher shelves have a higher risk of falling off or being mishandled. This is why you must ensure you do not store chemicals on shelves that are too high up.
3. Do not put your chemicals in unmarked bottles
If you follow rule number this shouldn’t be a problem. Chemicals need to be correctly labelled to avoid cross-contamination or the use of the wrong chemical in the wrong situation.
Develop a good understanding of COSHH throughout the organisation
Whilst COSHH may seem like a regulatory obligation with no benefit, as an employer you must follow the regulations from both a compliance and safety perspective. Make sure all employees know what the COSHH substances are and what their respective symbols mean. This will help keep your workplace a safer environment for all involved.