Every year exposure to hazardous substances at work affects the health of thousands of people.

Common examples include:

  • lung disease (e.g. dusty conditions)
  • skin irritation, dermatitis or skin cancer (e.g. frequent contact with oils, contact with corrosive liquids)
  • occupational asthma (e.g. sensitisation to isocyanates in paints or adhesives)
  • toxic fumes
  • cancer.

COSHH regulations 2002

These provide a framework to help protect people in the workplace against health risks from hazardous substances.

The substances may be used directly in the workplace (eg cleaning chemicals) or may arise from the work (e.g. dusts, fumes and waste products).

COSHH lays down a sensible step-by-step approach to the necessary precautions.

The potential for identifiable cost benefits (e.g. tighter control over the use and storage of materials), improved morale and industrial relations have been widely realised.

COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health. Exceptions include asbestos and lead (which have their own regulations) and substances that are hazardous only because they are radioactive, asphyxiants, at high pressure/temperature or have explosive/flammable properties.


  • Hazard - is the potential to cause harm
  • Risk - is the likelihood that it will harm you in the actual circumstances of use

The risk will depend on a number of factors, such as the hazard presented by the substance, how it is used, how exposure is controlled, the degree and extent of exposure etc.

COSHH requires:

  • Assessment of the risks
  • Deciding what precautions are needed
  • Prevention or control of the risks
  • Ensuring that control measures are used and maintained
  • Monitoring exposure and health surveillance, where necessary
  • Informing, instructing and training employees about the risks and precautions needed.


Assessment is a step-by-step approach:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Evaluate the risks to people
  3. For significant risks, decide on the action needed to remove or reduce them to insignificant levels.

Assessment is the responsibility of the employer. Persons preparing the assessment will need to:

  • have access to, and understand, COSHH, related legislation, codes of practice and published guidance
  • be competent to carry through the work of assessment
  • consult widely within the workforce and inform them of results accordingly
  • consider peripatetic workers (who work for you on other premises).

Last updated: Fri 25 November, 2022 @ 14:38