One of the most common hazards found in workplaces is the use, handling, and storage of chemicals materials. Many businesses store hazardous substances on-site as part of their daily work operations. The risk of these chemical exposures is a part of daily life and can cause life-long damage to those encountering such risks.
It is seen that nearly 600-900 deaths and 30,000 cases of severe health issues occur every year due to chemical exposure at work. This includes unsafe handling, storing, and working with these substances.
This makes it essential for employers and those with a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their staff by managing the risk followed by appropriate COSHH training and guidance. And so, this content piece covers some of the key things to keep in mind to work safely.
Managing Chemical Risk in the Workplace
Hazardous chemicals are substances or materials that can cause damage to property, life, or the surroundings. The key responsibilities employers have in managing the risk are:
- Create a risk register
- Have Safety Data Sheets(SDSs) for every hazardous material
- Identify & manage the risks related to chemical substances
The Process of Managing Hazardous Substance
The most effective way to manage the risk of hazardous substances is to follow a process involving certain steps to ensure the risk is managed to it minimum.
Below are these steps:
The first step of the process is to identify the hazard associated with hazardous substances. This can be done by checking the SDSs. The Safety Data Sheets for hazardous substances provide complete information on the properties of the substance (physical, chemical, hazardous).
This is the crucial step of the process as all the chemicals have different natures and pose different types of hazards to those working around them. Employers need to be accountable for this risk and so have proper processes to identify the risk.
The second step of the process after the identification of hazardous substances is to assess the risk of these chemicals.
Employers need to conduct proper risk assessments to assess the likelihood of the incident and the severity of the risk.
The COSHH risk assessment process also helps determine the magnitude of the risk in the workplace, the right tools to work with, and the legal requirements to follow to work safely.
After identifying and assessing the risk, the third step of the process is to control the risk of hazardous substances. This involves a hierarchy of risk control measures.
This hierarchy of risk control highlights different steps to follow, one after the other, to minimize the risk.
The order to follow is as below:
Eliminate – The first step of the hierarchy is to discontinue or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals
Substitute – The next step is to substitute the hazardous chemicals with a less dangerous substance
Engineering Controls – The best way to prevent the hazard is to make necessary arrangements and isolate people from hazardous materials
Administrative Controls – Train, instruct, and guide people to implement safe working practices
Personal Protective Equipment – Personal protective equipment or PPE plays a crucial role in preventing people from hazards and dangers of chemical risks
Once all the steps are fulfilled in the process, it is time to develop a proactive approach to minimize the hazards occurring and to ensure the workplace stays safe. Implementing a proactive approach will help prevent major accidents and incidents to occur and causing problems.
Controlling Hazardous Substances
Employers should prevent hazardous substances exposure as far as reasonably possible, under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.
The objective of COSHH is to adequately control chemical exposure and prevent ill health. For this purpose, employers need to:
- Have control equipment
- Have control procedures
- Examine & test control measures
These small steps can help prevent ill health and accidents. Alongside this, employees also have responsibilities to report any concern or health problem caused by hazardous substances and follow instructions, guidance, and training delivered by their employers to create a safe workplace.
Proper safety signs and labels are also an effective way to manage hazardous chemicals at work. All the substances that have the potential to cause chemical hazards must be labeled properly, so, they can be used, handled, and stored carefully.
Training & Guidance
Last but not least, providing adequate knowledge, training, and guidance to the staff members and workers is also an excellent way to mitigate the risk. The equipped and trained personnel know how to work in a difficult situation while themselves and their surroundings are safe.
Hazardous chemicals and substances have the potential to cause severe injuries, ill health, or accidents. Those in managerial roles need to be accountable for these risks occurring in their work environment and have preventive control measures to keep the work area safe and secure for everyone to work.