Hazardous substances include biological agents and carcinogens (any substance recognised as having a potential to cause cancer).
What law applies?
Biological agents include bacteria, parasites, viruses, cell cultures and other microorganisms. They're classified into 4 groups according to their severity, the risk of infection, how easily and quickly they can pass from one person to another, and the availability of treatment.
Biological hazards don't just apply to hospitals and research laboratories. Employees who have contact with poor, vulnerable or unwell people, such as charity workers and residential home staff, are also at risk.
Under COSHH, you and your employees have to obey certain rules when dealing with biological agents, including:
You must also identify:
A carcinogen is any substance that has the potential to cause cancer. Hardwood dust is one example.
A mutagen is a substance that can alter chromosomes or genes.
is vital when considering carcinogens or mutagens because it can take many years for the ill-health effects to surface. There may not be any early warnings of bad side effects and treatment options may be limited.
The risk assessment should identify if carcinogens or mutagens are present. If so, it should also identify the nature and extent of the risk. You must plan and take effective control measures and other precautions. If possible, don't use carcinogens or mutagens, or produce them as waste or by-products.
If it's not reasonably practical to prevent exposure by using alternative substances or processes, you must carry out other requirements.
If possible, enclose the process and handling systems. If this isn't possible, you must:
You must provide suitableif the above doesn't adequately control the risk of exposure.
If carcinogens and mutagens have escaped into the workplace, the employer must immediately tell those who may be affected. Only those carrying out repairs and other necessary work should be allowed in that area. You must provide them with suitable PPE, including respiratory protective equipment.
It's normally necessary to regularly monitor the air.
A health check is appropriate in all cases of exposure unless it's controlled so that there is no reasonable likelihood of an identifiable disease or any adverse health effects.
It may not be immediately obvious to spot ill-health effects, so it's particularly important that you give information, training and instructions of high standard. You can't presume that there is no risk of cancer from exposure until you completely prevent employees from being exposed.
Suppliers that provide dangerous substances and preparations (mixtures), including chemicals and animal and vegetable matter, must give information about the hazards on labels and package the chemicals safely so that the contents won't accidentally spill.
What law applies?
The warning label must include:
Under COSHH and CHIP, when hazardous substances are poured through pipes, etc. or into smaller containers, such as a cleaner's spray bottle, you must make sure that all relevant information is clearly shown. The information should include the contents, their nature and any associated hazards.
Safety data sheets show information on chemical products and can help you carry out a COSHH risk assessment. However, they're not a substitute for an assessment, and you can't rely solely on them.
You must supply safety data sheets with all substances classified as dangerous and any other potentially harmful substances. There are some exceptions, such as if a substance is bought in a shop and intended for the general public, but general safety information still needs to be provided.
Safety data sheets must be in English and contain 16 headings, even if the substance is supplied from abroad.
Safety data sheets supplied from outside the EU often don't comply with EU law. Many chemicals are imported from countries such as the USA where the information on the sheets is very different. However, if a substance is imported into the UK, the supplier has a responsibility to provide a data sheet that complies with EU law.
You don't have to give safety data sheets to your employees. However, it's still necessary to give them all the information necessary to ensure their health and safety at work. This means that the information contained in safety data sheets should be made available to them.
The HSE and HSENI websites have a lot of useful information including specific pages on: