In April 2013 the HSE has launched a full COSHH guidance part to its website, aimed at helping businesses to understand the issues surrounding working with and handling hazardous substances. The key aim being to inform employers about their responsibilities; in regard to safeguarding the wellbeing of their employees’ health.
The importance of managing COSHH properly cannot be underestimated as it is known that exposure to dangerous chemicals, toxins or harmful substances in the workplace continues to account for many fatal illnesses. The HSE estimate that up to 12,000 UK workers deaths a year, the equivalent of more than 200 deaths a week, come from exposure to hazardous substances.
I know only too well, from the many businesses that I have worked with, that there continues to be ignorance around what harm hazardous substances can do to employees, and is therefore too easily overlooked. As the harm is not easily identified then many just assume that the risks therefore do not exist.
A recent example of this was in a business that has paint spraying as a key component of their activities; this business had failed to implement the correct controls to protect their workforce and this had to be explained to them. The problem was that you could not see any chemical particles in the air and for them they could not smell them (a common theme when a business gets used to handling substances). Therefore there couldn`t be a problem, could there? The answer of course is yes and the HSE has (for a long time) stressed the controls it would expect to see in place.
The HSE website provides guidance on the area of health surveillance in those industries that have risks associated with chemicals and other hazardous substances. The guidance stresses that it is necessary to be vigilant about these risks even when all safety protocols have been followed. Health surveillance is after all just another safety check to help identify in a timely manner that controls are working correctly (or not). It should help to guide a business about what actions are needed.
The HSE has stressed it knows from its work with industry that some businesses can be unclear about when health surveillance is needed and how to implement it, so are deterred from taking action. This new guidance, developed with industry, should help take any mystery away and give employers the confidence to know whether or not health surveillance is appropriate.
Here I agree with the HSE that better targeted health surveillance should help a business to ensure a healthier workforce and a more productive business.