Why is COSHH Risk Assessment Necessary?

Do you work in a workplace environment in which you or your employees come into contact with hazardous substances? If so, it is very important to do a COSHH Risk Assessment. Let’s take a look at why this type of risk assessment is necessary and what it entails. A COSHH Risk Assessment involves taking a very close look at the processes and tasks in the workplace that involve potentially hazardous substances. The purpose of the assessment is to identify these potentially hazardous substances and whether or not they are in danger of causing someone ill health or harm. Also, the risk assessment involves looking at the precautions being taken in the workplace and determining whether or not anyone is at risk of being harmed or if the risk is being managed and reduced to an acceptable level. If this is not the case, the next step is to decide on the further control measures that must be taken to prevent or control the risk. When completing a risk assessment, all steps, observations and measures taken should be written down and recorded. Of course the risk assessment is an ongoing process and it is necessary to make periodic assessments to determine if any new threats have arisen.

What are Hazardous Substances?

There are many workplaces in which workers can be exposed to hazardous substances. These could be paints, adhesives or cleaning agents or they could be the substances that are generated by work activities such as the fumes from welding and soldering. Also, they could include naturally occurring substances such as grain dust, or even biological materials like micro-organisms and bacteria. Hazardous substances might not always be labelled as such. For example wood dust from sanding or silica dust from cutting tile would not be labelled as hazardous, but it is harmful if you were to breathe it in.

What Dangers Can Hazardous Substances Cause?

Working with hazardous substances can expose employees and the public to a number of dangers. These dangers depend on the type of substance and the level of exposure to it. For example, hazardous materials can cause skin irritation, rash or dermatitis if the skin is exposed to them. Micro-organisms and bacteria can cause infections and illnesses. Also, some employees can experience skin burns by being splashed by dangerous materials. Also some workers have developed asthma and other respiratory conditions due to exposure to substances in the air at work. When toxic fumes become very strong, they can result in loss of consciousness and sometimes even death – especially in confined spaces. Long term exposure to carcinogenic chemicals can result in cancer, which can sometimes appear many years after the exposure to the material – such as in cases of mesothelioma lung disease that develop after inhalation of asbestos.

Why is a COSHH Risk Assessment So Important?

It is crucial that the manager or health and safety representative in the workplace perform a risk assessment in this capacity. First of all, the COSHH Risk Assessment is important for identifying which substances have the potential to cause harm. This can be done by reading the product labels, contacting the supplier and referencing the safety data sheets. It is also essential to think about how the danger would enter the bodies of the workers and the public. Would the substance be absorbed through the skin? Would it be breathed in? Would it be swallowed? What are the possible effects that would be caused by exposure by each of these routes? Are there any other people, such as contractors, members of the public, maintenance workers or visitors who could be exposed to this material? What happens if controls fail and people are exposed to the material accidentally? Another reason why the COSHH Risk Assessment is so important is that it not only ensures that you understand and identify all of the hazards, it allows you to create a plan to prevent exposure. The risk assessment encourages you to ask the important questions, such as how you can change the process so that the substance is eliminated or it can be handled in a safer way. These safety measures that you adopt can have a major effect on the safety and well-being of all workers in the company.

Ways to Reduce Risk

So what are some of the ways to reduce the risk of hazardous substances? Here are some of the ideas that you might touch upon during your risk assessment:
  • Changing the working process. Can you adapt the way things are done so that the risk is no longer an issue? For example, you could use a produce in pellet form rather than powder form, so that the airborne dust is not inhaled by workers.
  • Containing the danger. If it is possible to completely enclose the activity or process, you might be able to reduce or eliminate the harmful substances that are released.
  • Restricting access. Only people who must be present for the work to be done and have the appropriate COSHH training should be in the working area.
  • Using appropriate containers. Storing hazardous substances in the correct containers is very important for ensuring the safety of your workers.
  • Have a plan for cleaning up spillages. Make sure that the right cleaning equipment is available right away and that all employees know what to do in the event of a spill.
  • Encourage communication and a positive health and safety culture in the community. Make sure that all employees are on board with the policies and are following them. Keep your office door open for any feedback or suggestions, as an employee might spot an issue or potential danger in the workplace before you do.
These are just a few of the ways that you can reduce the risk of harmful exposure to dangerous substances in your workplace. Carrying out a COSHH Risk Assessment is not only required, it is absolutely essential for ensuring the safety of your employees.

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