Assessing The Risks Of Chemicals

Despite have specific legislation requiring the assessment of hazardous substances since 1988 employers small and large still often lack assessments of the risks their employees face when working with or being exposed to a chemical or biological agent. The relevant law develops the basic requirement within the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the safe use, storage and transportation of hazardous substances. The CONTROL OF SUBSTANCES HAZARDOUS TO HEALTH REGULATIONS (COSHH) 2002 as amended, the aim is to safeguard employees who work with substances which could be hazardous to their health. Substances covered include chemicals, dust and micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi).

Employers must not carry on work which is liable to expose a worker to a substance hazardous to their health unless a suitable and sufficient assessment has been made of the risks. Control measures to reduce the risk must then be put in place. Assessments should be reviewed if there has been a change to the work or if the employer believes they are no longer valid.


Sources of information to assist with the identification of hazardous substances and their associated risks include substance labels, EH40, HSE guidance and substance safety data sheets. It is important to consider factors about the substance itself (its form, classifications and ill health effects), its use (how is it being used and how could employees be exposed), the environments (hot, humid, space, lighting) where it is used and then the people who may be effected by the substance (number of employees exposed).

1. What is the potential for causing harm – are effects acute (immediate) or chronic (long term)?
2. What is the route of entry?
3. What are the chemical classifications?
4. What is the chance of exposure occurring?
5. Who could be exposed? Are there people at specific risk?
6. How often is exposure liable to occur?
7.What exposure is experienced? Extra information is required if exposure is regular or the substance has a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL).
8.Where is the substance being used? In a well-or poorly-ventilated area?
9.Is the substance used alone or as part of a mixture?
10. How much is used? How often?
11. Who is exposed? Number of people? Any vulnerable people?
12. Synergistic effects? (Two substances may mix together and cause different effects from the two individual substances on their own.) Or a person due to their pre-existing health issues may be at greater risk form one substance than other people in general. For instances smokers are more at risk from asbestos than non-smokers
13. Review the results of air sampling and health surveillance to identify any potential problems.
14. Any existing controls. How effective are they?
15. Implement control measures
16. Record assessment
17. Must be reviewed regularly and when invalid.

For higher risk substances additional factors need to be taken into consideration.

Substance related issues

A number of key issues need to be identified, some of which may be obtained from the SDS. These will include:-

  • The form or forms of the substance e.g. wood dust as shown here
  • Its concentration

If you would like to know more about workplace safety, book onto one of our Health and Safety Courses or alternatively, contact our friendly team today.

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