Hazardous substances


Hazardous substances

Substances that can be hazardous to health need to be eliminated from the workplace or controlled so that they are safe to use.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) identifies the following:

  • Chemicals
  • Products containing chemicals
  • Fumes
  • Dusts
  • Vapours
  • Mists
  • Gases and asphyxiating gases and
  • Biological agents, such as germs
  • Germs that cause diseases,such as leptospirosis or legionnaires disease and germs used in laboratories.

Substances such as asbestos, lead and radiation have their own regulations.

Like most health and safety at work, the starting point is Risk Assessment. For hazardous substances this is usually, based on data supplied by manufacturers or suppliers (hazard data sheets), and an analysis of the task(s) involved to identify the hazards, controls, and any personal protective equipment needed.

The significant details of the risk assessment should always be recorded for future reference, but this is legally required where 5 or more people are employed by the business. Like any risk assessment, the details should be regularly reviewed and updated when there are any changes to substances, processes or precautions.

Preventing exposure is the best control. This is usually achieved by eliminating a substance altogether, or replacing it with a safer alternative.

If this is not possible, then exposure to the substance must be controlled. Control means reducing the risk of harm to as low a level as you reasonably can. This could include:

  • Enclosing a hazardous process to prevent exposure. Fumes will usually need to be extracted safely
  • Controlling a process by using a safer method of working, reducing the amount of exposure
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, overalls
  • Proper training, information and instruction for those affected
  • Emergency procedures

Control measures need to be regularly checked and tested to ensure they are working properly. This may require an engineer for ventilation, or a simple visual check of PPE to ensure it is not damaged or out of date. Records should be kept of all checks and tests.

For some hazardous substances, health surveillance may be required, e.g. dermatitis or asthma. The objectives are:

  • To protect the health of employees by early detection of adverse changes or disease
  • To collect data for detecting or evaluating health hazards
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of control measures

While some health surveillance may require the services of a doctor or occupational nurse, examining hands for signs of dermatitis can often be carried out by the employer at no cost. Records must be kept and you can get further information on health surveillance from the HSE by visiting their Health Surveillance pages.

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