We have spent years looking at hazardous substances and the health & safety risks for businesses across the UK; whether for COSHH or under DSEAR and Fire risks. In most instances we have found a general lack of understanding of what could go wrong and how people can be harmed by hazardous substances.
This lack of understanding is not restricted to any particular job type as we have found a lack of risk awareness in:
- Production activities;
- Maintenance activities;
- Chemical process activities; and many other work areas.
In fact, in the last month, we have undertaken a review and talked to staff in a large chemical processing company and found a significant number of improvements to be implemented. The reason for this review was that management had become concerned that staff had become complacent to the substances in use and our findings confirmed this to be the case.
The problem seems to lie with the fact that COSHH risks can often tend to develop over a prolonged period of time; and as the harm cannot be seen, people tend to not recognise the risks. Many employers will implement controls such as providing ventilation systems and PPE but fail to train staff effectively to understand what it is they are trying to protect them from.
COSHH requires employers to assess the risks of working with hazardous substances, to implement suitable controls (and check these are working through health surveillance if necessary), to develop emergency plans and to provide suitable training. From our experience, many businesses tend to fall down in at least one of these tasks; and often in multiple areas.
Let’s make it clear, having access to a materials safety data sheet (MSDS) does not constitute a COSHH assessment. What must be looked at is what is being used (or stored), how do people come into contact with it and how could they be harmed. Is this what your business does?