The workplace can hold a number of dangers for employees and employers alike. While the first hazards that to come to mind may be accidents such as falls, fire damage, or knife mishaps, an equally important realm is that of contact with hazardous substances. For over twenty years, UK legislation has had the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) in place to help protect employees from the potential risks of handling hazardous substances. The law lists a set of rules and regulations to both educate employers on what materials are hazardous, as well as give guidance for control measures they can put in place to lower the risk for their employees. It also puts the onus on employees to follow those measures!
So, what are some hazardous substances?
They can come in a variety of forms such as gases, fumes, liquids, chemicals, and biological agents (such as germs) and can affect the body through skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation. COSHH classifies substances as toxic, very toxic, corrosive, harmful, or irritant. Common examples of hazards include bleach or other disinfectant cleaning products that contain ammonia, sodium hydroxide (lye) or hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide from gas ovens, wet working (where hands are consistently wet for prolonged periods), and even the inhalation of particles such as wood dust and flour or cooking fumes containing oil mists. COSHH also requires proper labelling of hazardous chemicals which means cleaning and cooking products are labeled as corrosive, irritant, or even flammable so you can be aware of the risks.
The most important thing?
The most important step is to educate your staff on all the potential hazardous substances they may come in contact with and to limit their exposure through regulated control measures. Simple knowledge, such as the fact that the accidental combination of the two cleaning chemical hydrochloric acid and bleach can create a life threatening noxious gas, needs to be well communicated. Making these facts easily accessible through regular trainings or even printed out fact sheets can be a great way to inform and remind everyone of their risk and how to prevent injury.
COSHH encourages a number of control measures, which can be easy as keeping a room well-ventilated so cleaning and cooking fumes are dissipated before building up to toxic levels. Other measures for the control of substances hazardous to health include storing cleaning products in a secure place, wearing protective gear such as gloves, eye wear, and an apron, and practicing good hand care with proper washing and moisturising.