What is a COSSH assessment?

A COSSH assessment aims to identify hazardous substances, identify who might be at risk, and then evaluate the risk to decide on precautions that need to be taken. In this blog, we will define what COSSH stands for, detail when a COSHH assessment is required and outline the three steps for completing a COSSH assessment. 

What does COSSH stand for?

COSSH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. This health and safety legislation outlines how employees and employers should handle, store and dispose of hazardous substances. The main goal of COSSH is to minimise risk and to reduce exposure to hazardous substances to prevent health issues.

When is a COSSH assessment required?

If you are or your employees are using, creating or producing a substance that could be hazardous to a person’s health then you are required to complete a COSSH assessment. Employers are legally required to carry out a risk assessment before any work with or around hazardous substances can begin. As an employer, neglecting your responsibly to conduct a COSSH assessment could not only lead to legal action, but could also put your workforce at risk.

How to carry out a COSSH assessment?

A COSSH assessment is carried out in three steps; identifying hazards, identifying who is at risk and evaluation. 

Step 1: Identifying the hazards 

The first step is to identify any hazardous substances present in your workplace that may present a risk to the health and safety of customers or employees. A hazardous substance is classes as any mixture of materials that are toxic, corrosive or are an irritant. All substances that are used in the workplace, produced due to work activities, substances that are naturally occurring and biological substances, for example bacteria. Substances include chemicals, gases, vapours, mists, fumes, dusts and microorganisms. All hazardous substances must be recorded, no matter how small a risk they present to a person’s health and safety.

Step 2: Identify who is at risk

After identifying all hazardous substances, you need to consider who will be at risk from them. Remember to include employees, supervisors, contractors, cleaning and maintenance staff, site visitors, people residing or working nearby that may be exposed. Once you have identified who could be a risk, you will need to consider all the different ways they could be harmed based on how harmful the substance is, how likely it is for someone to be exposed and the duration of exposure. Some effects of coming into contact with hazardous substances include irritation to the skin, loss of consciousness, allergic reactions, infection from biological substances and terminal illness. 

Step 3: Evaluate and reduce risk of exposure

Your report should now detail all of the hazardous substances that anyone at your workplace could directly or indirectly come into contact with. Now comes the critical step of evaluating each substance and detailing the ways you will minimise risk of exposure. Begin with the substances that present the most risk and work your way down. You can follow the hierarchy or control when detailing how you will reduce risk; elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering, administration and PPE. 

For more information on dealing with hazardous substances and COSSH assessments, visit hse.gov.uk.