COSHH: A brief guide to the Regulations
What you need to know about the Control of Substances
Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
COSHH: a brief guide to the Regulations
COSHH: A brief guide to the
What you need to know about the Control of Substances
Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
1 of 12 pages
substances generated during work activities (eg fumes from soldering and
naturally occurring substances (eg grain dust);
biological agents such as bacteria and other micro-organisms.
Where are hazardous substances found?
In nearly all work environments, for example:
Effects of hazardous substances
Examples of the effects of hazardous substances include:
skin irritation or dermatitis as a result of skin contact;
asthma as a result of developing allergy to substances used at work;
losing consciousness as a result of being overcome by toxic fumes;
cancer, which may appear long after the exposure to the chemical that
infection from bacteria and other micro-organisms (biological agents).
What COSHH requires
To comply with COSHH you need to follow these eight steps:
COSHH: A brief guide to the Regulations 2 of 12 pages
Health and Safety
Step 1 Assess the risks Assess the risks to health from hazardous substances
used in or created by your workplace activities.
Step 2 Decide what precautions are
You must not carry out work which could expose your
employees to hazardous substances without first
considering the risks and the necessary precautions,
and what what else you need to do to comply with
Step 3 Prevent or adequately
You must prevent your employees being exposed to
hazardous substances. Where preventing exposure is
not reasonably practicable, then you must adequately
control it. The advice in this leaflet, and in the other
guidance it refers to, will help you to make correct
assessments and to put the appropriate controls into
Step 4 Ensure that control
measures are used and
Ensure that control measures are used and
maintained properly and that safety procedures are
Step 5 Monitor the exposure Monitor the exposure of employees to hazardous
substances, if necessary.
Step 6 Carry out appropriate health
Carry out appropriate health surveillance where your
assessment has shown this is necessary or where
COSHH sets specific requirements.
Step 7 Prepare plans and
procedures to deal with with
accidents, incidents and
Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents,
incidents and emergencies involving hazardous
substances, where necessary.
Step 8 Ensure employees are
properly informed, trained
You should provide your employees with suitable and
sufficient information, instruction and training.
What is a substance hazardous to health under COSHH?
Under COSHH there are a range of substances regarded as hazardous to health:
Substances or mixtures of substances classified as dangerous to health under
the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations
2002 (CHIP). These can be identified by their warning label and the supplier
must provide a safety data sheet for them. Many commonly used dangerous
substances are listed in the HSE publication Approved Supply List. Information
approved for the classification and labelling of substances and preparations
dangerous for supply, as part of the CHIP package. Suppliers must decide if
preparations and substances that are not in the Approved Supply List are
dangerous, and if so, label them accordingly.
Substances with workplace exposure limits are listed in the HSE publication
EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits.
Biological agents (bacteria and other micro-organisms), if they are directly
connected with the work, such as with farming, sewage treatment, or
healthcare, or if the exposure is incidental to the work (eg exposure to bacteria
from an air-conditioning system that is not properly maintained).
Any kind of dust if its average concentration in the air exceeds the levels
specified in COSHH.
Any other substance which creates a risk to health, but which for technical
reasons may not be specifically covered by CHIP including: asphyxiants (ie
gases such as argon and helium, which, while not dangerous in themselves,
can endanger life by reducing the amount of oxygen available to breathe),
pesticides, medicines, cosmetics or substances produced in chemical
What is not a substance hazardous to health under COSHH?
COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health except:
asbestos and lead, which have their own regulations;
substances which are hazardous only because they are:
- at high pressure;
- at extreme temperatures; or
- have explosive or flammable properties (other regulations apply to these
biological agents that are outside the employer’s control, eg catching an
infection from a workmate. (If in doubt, please contact HSE for advice.)
For the vast majority of commercial chemicals, the presence (or not) of a warning
label will indicate whether COSHH is relevant. For example, there is no warning
label on ordinary household washing-up liquid, so if it’s used at work you do not
have to worry about COSHH; but there is a warning label on bleach, and so
COSHH does apply to its use in the workplace.
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Health and Safety
Step 1: Assess the risks
Your first step is to decide whether there is a problem with the substance(s) your
company is using, or those to which your employees are incidentally exposed. This
is called a risk assessment.
identify the hazardous substances present in your workplace;
consider the risks these substances present to people’s health.
Identify the hazardous substances present in your workplace
Look at the list on page 3. Remember to think about substances which have been
supplied to you; those produced by your work activity, eg fumes, vapours,
aerosols, final products and waste materials; and those naturally or incidentally
present in your workplace, eg infectious agents carried by farm animals.
Other sources of information which will help you identify hazardous substances are:
other employers in the same business;
HSE website (www.hse.gov.uk) and HSE guidance, such as EH40/2005
Workplace exposure limits;
HSE publication CHIP Approved Supply List;
Consider the risks these substances present to people’s health
Assessing the risk involves making a judgement on how likely it is that a hazardous
substance will affect someone’s health. You need to ask yourself:
How much of the substance is in use or produced by the work activity and
how could people be exposed to it? For supplied substances HSE has
developed a generic risk assessment guide to help. It uses information on
hazard, amount used and simple definitions of dustiness for solids or volatility
for liquids. The guide is called COSHH essentials: Easy steps to control
chemicals. The guide also helps you with the next two steps - deciding what
action you need to take to control risks and controlling exposure. As well as
the published version, COSHH essentials can be found free on the Internet at:
www.coshh-essentials.org.uk, where you can follow the steps quickly and
Who could be exposed to the substance and how often? You must remember
to include all groups of people who could come into contact with the
substance, ie contractors, visitors and members of the public, as well as your
employees. Do not forget those involved in cleaning and maintenance tasks -
high exposures can occur during this type of work. Also, certain groups of
people could suffer more from exposure than others, eg pregnant women,
individuals with a suppressed immune system.
Is there a possibility of substances being absorbed through the skin or
swallowed (eg as a result of a substance getting into the mouth from
contaminated hands during eating or smoking)? Are there risks to your
employees at other locations if they work away from your main workplace?
See the HSE guidance Working alone in safety for solitary workers away from
their home base.
COSHH: A brief guide to the Regulations 4 of 12 pages
Health and Safety
Assess the risks
are used and
Prepare plans and
to deal with
Who should do the assessment?
As the employer, legal responsibility for the assessment is yours, but others can do
some or even most of the work of preparing it on your behalf. Except in very simple
cases, whoever carries out the assessment will need to:
have access to and understand the COSHH Regulations and relevant
Approved Codes of Practice or to someone else who does;
be able to get all the necessary information and have the knowledge and
experience to make correct decisions about the risks and the actions needed.
You and your employees have the most knowledge of what really happens in the
workplace. Use this knowledge before deciding whether you need outside help.
If there is no expertise available in the company to assess the more complex risks,
you will need to get competent help, for example from a professionally qualified
occupational hygienist, health and safety specialist or a trade association.
Your employees or their safety representatives or safety committee should be
involved in assessments. They have valuable contributions to make. They must
also be informed of the results of the assessment.
Step 2: Decide what precautions are needed
If you identify significant risks, decide on the action you need to take to remove or
reduce them to acceptable levels.
To help you decide whether risks are significant, we suggest you compare any
controls you already use with:
Good practice advice from HSE (see www.hse.gov.uk), including advice from
COSHH essentials: Easy steps to control chemicals. This guide is for supplied
substances. It takes you through a simple risk assessment and identifies what
is needed to control exposure. It provides detailed advice on control measures
for a number of common industrial operations. If the controls you have in place
are the same or more stringent than those recommended by the guide, then
you are likely to be taking the right type of action.
The results of monitoring workers’ exposure with workplace exposure limits
(WELs) published in EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits. See Step 3 for
information on adequate control.
Good work practices and standards used by or recommended for your
industry sector, eg trade associations, Health and Safety Commission (HSC)
advisory committees. Also check your chemical supplier or manufacturer’s
advice on storage, use and disposal.
check that your control systems work and are effective;
consider whether the substance could be absorbed through the skin. Where
this could occur, a biological monitoring programme may help you to assess
the risks. The HSE publication Biological monitoring in the workplace: a guide
to its practical application to chemical exposure sets out when biological
monitoring is useful and the procedures for setting up an effective programme.
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Health and Safety
What further action should be taken?
If you decide that there are risks to health, you must take action to protect your
employees’ (and others’) health. The rest of the steps in this booklet will help you.
Even if you judge that the control measures being used fully control the risks, you
should still go through the remaining steps to ensure you are fully complying with
COSHH. This will also help you ensure your controls stay effective.
Recording and reviewing the assessment
If you have five or more employees you must make and keep a record of the main
findings of the assessment, either in writing or on computer. The record should be
made as soon as practicable after the assessment and contain enough information
to explain the decisions you have taken about whether risks are significant and the
need for any control measures. Also record the actions your employees and others
need to take to ensure hazardous substances are adequately controlled. If you
decide that there is no risk to health or the risk is trivial, you may need to record
the identity of the substance, the control measures taken, and the fact that it poses
little or no risk.
The COSHH Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) provides more information on
what the record of the main findings of the assessment should contain (see
‘Further advice and information’ on page 11).
If a generic risk assessment using COSHH essentials has been carried out, the
completed forms or print outs could be used as a basis for the record of the risk
The assessment should be a ‘living’ document, which you revisit if circumstances
change. It should definitely be reviewed when:
there is reason to suspect the assessment is no longer valid;
there has been a significant change in the work;
the results of monitoring employees’ exposure (see Step 5) shows it to be
The assessment should state when the next review is planned. Records are mainly
for your benefit and form part of your system to protect health, but others may
want to see them, eg safety representatives, safety committees, health and safety
Step 3: Prevent or adequately control exposure
The COSHH Regulations require you to prevent exposure to substances hazardous
to health, if it is reasonably practicable to do so. You might:
change the process or activity so that the hazardous substance is not needed
replace it with a safer alternative;
use it in a safer form, eg pellets instead of powder.
The HSE guidance booklet Seven steps to successful substitution of hazardous
substances advises on how to replace hazardous substances with safer
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Health and Safety
Adequately control exposure
If prevention is not reasonably practicable, you must adequately control exposure.
You should consider and put in place measures appropriate to the activity and
consistent with the risk assessment, including, in order of priority, one or more of
use appropriate work processes, systems and engineering controls, and
provide suitable work equipment and materials eg use processes which
minimise the amount of material used or produced, or equipment which totally
encloses the process;
control exposure at source (eg local exhaust ventilation), and reduce the
number of employees exposed to a minimum, the level and duration of their
exposure, and the quantity of hazardous substances used or produced in the
provide personal protective equipment (eg face masks, respirators, protective
clothing), but only as a last resort and never as a replacement for other control
measures which are required.
The COSHH Essentials: Easy steps to control chemicals guide and free website
(www.coshh-essentials.org.uk) give advice on adequate control measures for
supplied chemicals and a number of common industrial operations. For supplied
chemicals it is important that you work through the risk assessment process it
outlines, to arrive at the right measures for your chemicals and tasks.
Meaning of ‘adequate control’
Under COSHH, adequate control of exposure to a substance hazardous to health
applying the eight principles of good practice set out in Schedule 2A to
not exceeding the workplace exposure limit (WEL) for the substance (if there is
if the substance causes cancer, heritable genetic damage or asthma, reducing
exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
HSC has established WELs for a number of substances hazardous to health.
These are intended to prevent excessive exposure to specified hazardous
substances by containing exposure below a set limit. A WEL is the maximum
concentration of an airborne substance, averaged over a reference period, to
which employees may be exposed by inhalation. WELs are listed in EH40/2005
Workplace exposure limits. Correctly applying the principles of good practice will
mean exposures are controlled below the WEL. Advice on applying the principles
can be found in the COSHH ACOP.
Adequate control of carcinogens, mutagens and asthmagens
COSHH acknowledges the particular hazards of substances which cause cancer,
heritable genetic damage or asthma by requiring that exposure to these is reduced
to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. The HSE website contains guidance
on suitable controls.
For carcinogens (substances which may cause cancer) or mutagens (substances
which may cause heritable genetic damage) special requirements apply. These are
in regulation 7(5) of COSHH and explained in Appendix 1 of the COSHH ACOP.
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Health and Safety
Some substances can damage the skin itself while others can readily penetrate it,
become absorbed into the body and cause harm, so you must consider the need
to protect skin when deciding on control measures. The guide COSHH essentials:
Easy steps to control chemicals contains useful advice on skin protection.
Step 4: Ensure that control measures are used and maintained
Using the controls
COSHH requires your employees to make proper use of control measures and to
report defects. It is your responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that
they do so. This is why you must give your employees suitable training, information
and appropriate supervision (see Step 8 for a more detailed explanation).
COSHH places specific duties on you to ensure that exposure controls are
maintained. The objective being to ensure that every element of the control
measure continues to perform as originally intended. This applies to items of
equipment such as local exhaust ventilation and to systems of work, which will
have to be regularly checked to make sure that they are still effective. Respiratory
protective equipment should also be examined and, where appropriate, tested at
suitable intervals. COSHH sets specific intervals between examinations for local
exhaust ventilation equipment, and you must retain records of examinations and
tests carried out (or a summary of them) for at least five years.
Step 5: Monitor exposure
Under COSHH, you have to measure the concentration of hazardous substances
in the air breathed in by workers where your assessment concludes that:
there could be serious risks to health if control measures failed or deteriorated;
exposure limits might be exceeded; or
control measures might not be working properly.
However, you do not need to do this if you can show by another method of
evaluation that you are preventing or adequately controlling employees’ exposure
to hazardous substances, eg a system which automatically sounds an alarm if it
detects hazardous substances. The COSHH ACOP provides examples of other
alternative methods of evaluation.
Air monitoring must be carried out when employees are exposed to certain
substances and processes specified in Schedule 5 to the COSHH Regulations.
Where it is appropriate to carry out personal air monitoring, the air to be sampled is
the space around the worker’s face from where the breath is taken, ie the breathing
You should keep and maintain a record of any exposure monitoring you carry out
for at least five years. Where an employee has a health record (required where they
are under health surveillance, see Step 6), any monitoring results relevant to them
as an individual must be kept with their health record. They should be allowed
access to their personal monitoring record.
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Health and Safety
You can find more information on monitoring in the HSE guidance Monitoring
strategies for toxic substances.
Step 6: Carry out appropriate health surveillance
COSHH requires you to carry out health surveillance in the following circumstances:
where an employee is exposed to one of the substances listed in Schedule 6
to COSHH and is working in one of the related processes, eg manufacture of
certain compounds of benzene, and there is a reasonable likelihood that an
identifiable disease or adverse health effect will result from that exposure;
where employees are exposed to a substance linked to a particular disease or
adverse health effect and there is a reasonable likelihood, under the conditions
of the work, of that disease or effect occurring and it is possible to detect the
disease or health effect.
Health surveillance might involve examination by a doctor or trained nurse. In some
cases trained supervisors could, for example, check employees’ skin for dermatitis,
or ask questions about breathing difficulties where work involves substances
known to cause asthma (see the questionnaire in the HSE publication Preventing
asthma at work. How to control respiratory sensitisers). You must keep a simple
record (a ‘health record’) of any health surveillance carried out. COSHH requires
you to keep health records for at least 40 years. (If a business ceases to trade, its
health records should be offered to HSE for safe keeping.)
For further information you can refer to the HSE guidance Health surveillance under
COSHH: guidance for employers. Biological monitoring can also have a role in
health surveillance. You can find further information on setting up a biological
monitoring programme in the HSE publication Biological monitoring in the
workplace: a guide to its practical application to chemical exposure.
Step 7: Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents,
incidents and emergencies
This will apply where the work activity gives rise to a risk of an accident, incident or
emergency involving exposure to a hazardous substance, which goes well beyond
the risks associated with normal day-to-day work. In such circumstances, you
must plan your response to an emergency involving hazardous substances before
That means preparing procedures and setting up warning and communication
systems to enable an appropriate response immediately any incident occurs, and
ensuring that information on your emergency arrangements is available to those
who need to see it, including the emergency services. It also requires these ‘safety
drills’ to be practised at regular intervals.
If any accident, incident or emergency occurs you must ensure that immediate
steps are taken to minimise the harmful effects, restore the situation to normal and
inform employees who may be affected. Only those staff necessary to deal with the
incident may remain in the area and they must be provided with appropriate safety
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Health and Safety
However, you do not have to introduce these emergency procedures if:
the quantities of substances hazardous to health present in your workplace are
such that they present only a slight risk to your employees’ health; and
the measures you have put in place under Step 3 are sufficient to control that
However, the requirements described in Step 7 must be complied with in full where
either carcinogens, mutagens or biological agents are used.
Step 8: Ensure that employees are properly informed, trained
COSHH requires you to provide your employees with suitable and sufficient
information, instruction and training which should include:
the names of the substances they work with or could be exposed to and the
risks created by such exposure, and access to any safety data sheets that
apply to those substances;
the main findings of your risk assessment;
the precautions they should take to protect themselves and other employees;
how to use personal protective equipment and clothing provided;
results of any exposure monitoring and health surveillance (without giving
individual employees’ names);
emergency procedures which need to be followed.
You should update and adapt the information, instruction and training to take
account of significant changes in the type of work carried out or work methods
used. You should also ensure that you provide information etc that is appropriate to
the level of risk identified by the assessment and in a manner and form in which it
will be understood by employees.
These requirements are vital. You must ensure your employees understand the
risks from the hazardous substances they could be exposed to. Your control
measures will not be fully effective if your employees do not know their purpose,
how to use them properly, or the importance of reporting faults.
COSHH: A brief guide to the Regulations 10 of 12 pages
Health and Safety
Further advice and information
If in doubt, contact your local HSE office (the address is in the phone book). The
staff there can refer you to the appropriate inspector or the environmental health
officer at your local authority.
Control of substances hazardous to health. The Control of Substances Hazardous
to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended). Approved Code of Practice and
guidance L5 (Fifth edition) HSE Books 2005 ISBN 0 7176 2981 3
COSHH essentials: Easy steps to control chemicals. Control of Substances
Hazardous to Health Regulations HSG193 (Second edition) HSE Books 2003
ISBN 0 7176 2737 3 (an electronic version is available at:
The idiot’s guide to CHIP 3: Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for
Supply) Regulations 2002 Leaflet INDG350 HSE Books 2002 (single copy free or
priced packs of 5 ISBN 0 7176 2333 5)
Approved supply list. Information approved for the classification and labelling of
substances and preparations dangerous for supply. Chemicals (Hazard Information
and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002. Approved list L129 (Seventh edition)
HSE Books 2002 ISBN 0 7176 2368 8
Approved classification and labelling guide. Chemicals (Hazard Information and
Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002. Guidance on Regulations L131 (Fifth
edition) HSE Books 2002 ISBN 0 7176 2369 6
EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits: Containing the list of workplace exposure
limits for use with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
2002 (as amended) Environmental Hygiene Guidance Note EH40 HSE Books 2005
ISBN 0 7176 2977 5
Biological monitoring in the workplace: A guide to its practical application to
chemical exposure HSG167 HSE Books 1997 ISBN 0 7176 1279 1
Biological monitoring in the workplace: Information for employees on its application
to chemical exposure Leaflet INDG245 HSE Books 1997 (single copy free or priced
packs of 15 ISBN 0 7176 1450 6)
Seven steps to successful substitution of hazardous substances HSG110 HSE
Books 1994 ISBN 0 7176 0695 3
Maintenance, examination and testing of local exhaust ventilation HSG54 (Second
edition) HSE Books 1998 ISBN 0 7176 1485 9
Respiratory Protective Equipment at work: A practical guide HSG53 (Third Edition)
HSE Books 2005 ISBN 0 7176 2904 X
Monitoring strategies for toxic substances HSG173 HSE Books 1997
ISBN 0 7176 1411 5
Preventing asthma at work. How to control respiratory sensitisers L55 HSE Books
1994 ISBN 0 7176 0661 9
COSHH: A brief guide to the Regulations 11 of 12 pages
Health and Safety
Guidance on working with dangerous pathogens in a variety of workplaces,
including laboratories and healthcare premises, has been produced by the Advisory
Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP), and is available on the HSE website
HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order from HSE Books,
PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA Tel: 01787 881165 Fax: 01787 313995
Website: www.hsebooks.co.uk (HSE priced publications are also available from
bookshops and free leaflets can be downloaded from HSE’s website:
For information about health and safety ring HSE’s Infoline Tel: 0845 345 0055
Fax: 0845 408 9566 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to
HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG.
The Stationery Office publications are available from The Stationery Office,
PO Box 29, Norwich NR3 1GN Tel: 0870 600 5522 Fax: 0870 600 5533
e-mail: email@example.com Website: www.tso.co.uk (They are also
available from bookshops.)
This leaflet contains notes on good practice which are not compulsory but
which you may find helpful in considering what you need to do.
© Crown copyright This publication may be freely reproduced, except for
advertising, endorsement or commercial purposes. First published 04/05. Please
acknowledge the source as HSE.