Using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can affect peoples health. The COSHH Regulations were introduced to minimise the risk of ill health from the exposure to hazardous substances whilst at work. Whenever reasonably practicable, exposure to any hazardous substances should be avoided. When this is not possible, exposure should be controlled by substitution, isolation, proper training and good housekeeping. Where exposure cannot be adequately controlled by these means, appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) will need to be issued.
In most organisations some Hazardous substances will be used even if it's just cleaning products. If this is the case then the organisation must comply with the requirements of the current COSHH Regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended).

What do they cover?
The COSHH regulations cover virtually all substances capable of causing adverse effects or disease arising from work activities. In these regulations, substances hazardous to health are defined as:

There are a number of hazardous substances that do not fall under COSHH

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Duties placed upon Organisations
The COSHH regulations place the following duties on the organisation:

In order to assess the risk and decide what control measures are required it is necessary to gather sufficient information about the hazardous substances. Safety Data Sheets must be available for all chemical products. These are information sheets that must be supplied for all chemical products classified as hazardous according to the criteria specified by the CHIP Regulations - Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002 (as amended).

CHIP Regulations
The CHIP regulations (Chemicals Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) place very specific duties on suppliers of Chemicals in the workplace. They identify criteria by which hazardous substances are classified, how to package the chemical in a suitable way and what information needs to be displayed on the label and in the Safety Data Sheet. Hazardous substances will display one or more of the following symbols on the label which identifies the category of danger identified during the classification process as shown below:

European Symbols

COSHH Symbols & Meanings

In addition the substance will have been allocated Risk Phrases that give more detail on the hazardous nature of the product and Safety Phrases that tell the user briefly how to handle the product in a safe way.

Currently there is a significant move towards global harmonisation of the classification and labeling of chemicals. New CLP (Classification, Labelling and packaging) Regulations identify new international hazard symbols and warning and precautionary phrases that must be used on labels which will eventually replace the danger signs, risk and safety phrases. There will be a transitional period as these are gradually phased in. The changes have to be completed by Dec 2010 for substances and by December 2015 for preparations.

Examples of the new pictograms are shown below.

New International Symbols

New International COSHH Symbols

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Substances affecting Health
The COSHH Regulations apply to substances that have been classified as affecting Health such as those classified as Corrosive, Harmful or Irritant and Toxic. Those with only physical hazards do not fall under COSHH but will still need to be assessed to ensure they are handled and stored in a safe way. The following general actions need to be carried out to ensure exposure to any hazardous substances is kept to the minimum and the above duties are adhered to:

COSHH Essentials
COSHH Essentials - an easy way to control chemicals recognises 4 general control approaches that need to be applied dependent on the level of harm that can be caused through exposure by inhalation to the chemicals:

The control approach that is required is identified from a simple table that takes the following factors into account:

In addition further controls will be necessary for chemicals that have an effect on the skin and eyes. COSHH essentials also contains guidance sheets which give further details on actions that may need to be taken. COSHH essentials can be obtained as a hard copy from HSE Books or the on line version used at COSHH Essentials

An example of a reporting form adapted from COSHH essentials is available for download below.

COSHH Assessment Form - download here
COSHH Assessment Record Form

Further Reading
Further information can be found by visiting the links below on the HSE Website:

A brief Guide to the Regulations - HSE PDF logo
Amendment Regulations (2003) - HSE PDF logo

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