There are many chemicals and chemical preparations used in the workplace that have the potential to cause harm to one’s health. If any of these hazardous substances are inhaled into the lungs, absorbed through the skin or ingested in some other format they may cause illness. Employers have a duty under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) to regulate and manage the use of hazardous materials. These materials can be present in many formats, such as dust particles, micro-organisms, fumes, gases, liquids and emissions from waste materials. Employees, contractors and visitors on site must be protected under COSHH. Occasional workers and visiting contractors to a site must be informed about the hazards, have detailed information about the work and be part of the risk control process.
If a new operation, a new production process or job role is introduced; a COSHH risk assessment must be carried out. This will make aware the risk to employee’s health. The risks must be controlled and mitigated against under the regulations. The assessment should consider risk from all angles, i.e as a result of processing, maintenance, by products, waste products or the activities of other employees. Personal protective equipment (PPE) may need to be part of the work environment.
There are workplace exposure limits (WEL) that provide guidance on how to help protect the health of workers. This is a concentration of a substance within the air that is averaged over a period of time. Long term exposure limits are for 8 hours and short term limits are for 15 minutes. An example of short term limits is that which is set to prevent eye irritation from a hazardous substance. However, the effects of exposure to substances depends on the nature of the substance and the pattern of exposure. Biological monitoring is useful where there is likely to be skin absorption or lung inhalation. Some WEL’s may be mixed compounds, such as rubber fume. Mixed substances require careful risk assessments, ie they may have the potential to cause harm to different body parts. Further control may be required to mitigate against these substances, as opposed to dealing with these substances individually. The risk control measures must consider how one is working with the material, for example, there may be small exposure within the production line but potential for large inhalation of this same substance when disposing of it.
Other legislation pertaining to the use of controlled substances at work include the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2007, the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority for Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems) Regulations 2006, the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009, Registration and the Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals (REACH) Enforcement Regulations 2008. There are many other regulations (as listed at the Health and Safety Executive) that also apply to the use and transport of chemicals within the workplace in the UK.