When recently training employees in a client’s business, a key focus was around the understanding of working with hazardous substances. This business has worked hard to improve its controls but management were concerned that employees had not fully bought into why the changes had been made.
This strikes us as not uncommon across UK businesses as employees rarely properly understand the risks from the substances they routinely come into contact with. This is probably because most chemical risks are not immediately obvious and as employees have often worked with substances over a prolonged period without seeing obvious health issues, they fail to see any problems.
This is not helped by too many employers not understanding COSHH risks and some even believing that having MSDS`s (safety data sheets) in place constitutes COSHH compliance. Clearly, just having access to information (often badly laid out and confusing to most) is not going to keep employees safe!
What’s important is how a business uses that information to understand what the risks are to its business and what it needs to do to prevent people being harmed. COSHH and the HSE requires every business to question what hazardous substances really need to be used and to look to see if safer alternatives could replace those that are most hazardous.
Even after doing the COSHH assessment and implementing any safety improvements it still requires that the workforce properly understands the risks. How else are you going to be able to persuade them to use extraction systems and wear PPE that was not previously in place?
If you’re not sure about COSHH compliance and employee understanding of hazardous substances we urge you to look again. This is often an easy target for HSE inspectors; which since the Fee for Intervention introduction this month could end up as a costly mistake.