Under the COSHH

23 January 2013

Bob Towse outlines the risks of failing to comply with COSHH Regulations and suggests why a COSHH management system might be the answer

Bob Towse outlines the risks of failing to comply with COSHH Regulations and suggests why a COSHH management system might be the answer

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) places requirements on employers to identify potential hazards in the workplace and provides health and safety guidance for employers and employees to follow while working. The regulations apply to every company with employees, but even selfemployed sole traders are affected in part if they take hazardous materials to other people’s premises. The regulations set general requirements for businesses to protect employees by risk assessment to establish the effect hazardous substances have on employees. They should develop effective exposure control, health surveillance and incident planning measures, and ensure staff are using the correct equipment and adopting procedures to reduce exposure. Employers must train their staff to meet the regulations.

There is a statutory responsibility to check and maintain COSHH control measures and to check that a process is not emitting uncontrolled contaminants, that the control equipment continues to work properly and that staff follow the right way of working. The individual in charge should ensure a systematic approach is taken to testing, examination and decommissioning, with results being documented and kept for five years.

Failing to protect your workforce during any activity that is included in the COSHH Regulations can have serious consequences. It is a criminal offence to contravene the regulations, which can lead to prosecution under the regulations or the Health and Safety at Work Act, attracting an unlimited fine and possible subsequent civil claims for damages.

In 2010/2011, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted 551 cases, an increase of nine per cent on the previous year, resulting in 517 convictions and fines of £18.6 million, averaging £35,938 per case, over double the cost per case compared with those in 2009/2010.

In 2011, Swindon pharmaceutical company Catalent Pharma Solutions was fined more than £100,000 after at least 10 employees developed allergic contact dermatitis in the workplace. Swindon magistrates heard that the company failed to complete a review of its COSHH risk assessment as required by law. A HSE inspector said the company had failed to address the inadequacies in its systems for working with hazardous substances, in its systems for health surveillance and in keeping health records.

In the same year, international utilities company Laing O’Rourke Utilities Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching COSHH Regulations and was ordered to pay a £4,000 fine and £15,062 in costs after a worker suffered prolonged exposure to a hazardous chemical.

Besides adhering to the law, compliance with COSHH offers a strong moral case. Using chemicals and other hazardous substances at work can put employees’ lives at risk, causing health problems, such as asthma or dermatitis, or even life threatening conditions like cancer. As a result of improved safety practices and procedures, COSHH reduces loss of business productivity from accidents or illness.

Complying with the COSHH
Regulations may be daunting, but a COSHH management system can limit the margin for error and ensure companies meet their statutory requirements and avoid costly prosecutions, and that staff remain as safe as possible.

The web based B&ES COSHH Management Systems, with regular updates and enhancements, will help employers stay on top of their obligations. For more information or to subscribe to the system, call B&ES Publications on 01768 860405, email bespublications@ or visit for a demonstration or sample assessments.

Bob Towse is head of technical and safety at the Building and Engineers Services Association (B&ES).