Simpler Health & Safety rules will be a welcome relief for business
We come into contact with substances that can cause us harm many times a day. Most of us are aware of dangerous substances like asbestos and lead, but there are plenty of other materials that can make us ill. Even in the safety of our home we can discover we are allergic to any number of substances such as cleaning agents or fabric conditioners. All employers, whether they are a large chemical plant or a small horticultural business, have a duty of care towards their employees, and that includes protection from hazardous substances.
Legislation introducing the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) came into force in 1989 and employers should not take their duties lightly. Working alongside substances that appear on the COSHH list greatly increases the chance of contracting work-related conditions such as occupational asthma and dermatitis. Some industries are more affected than others with, for example, up to 70 per cent of hairdressers suffering from work-related skin damage such as dermatitis at some point during their career – most cases of which are absolutely preventable.
In 2014 a worker died at a Lincolnshire herbal medicine factory after being exposed to a toxic gas (thought to be chlorine) from a cleaning product. The worker had no training in the use of chemicals and no company Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment had been carried out. The business was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £4,842. This is just one example of many that serve as a warning to take COSHH seriously.
It’s well known within the Health & Safety community that a vast number of companies, especially SME’s, are overwhelmed by the burden of regulation, and that’s if they are even aware of their duties in the first place!
Cutting Red Tape
In 2010, the coalition government introduced a ‘deregulation agenda’ called ‘Cutting Red Tape’ with the aim of reducing the cost and time requirements of regulatory burdens on businesses. One area pinpointed as in need of streamlining was the COSHH regulations.
The Health and Safety Executive has recently published its 2016/7 Business Plan and, amongst other planned changes to Health & Safety regulations, it includes a simplification of the COSHH rules. As many businesses struggle to meet the requirements of COSHH, the news will be music to the ears of many duty holders.
Raising Awareness of Dangers at Work
With the Health and Safety Executive revealing in November 2016 that 1.3 million working people in Great Britain are suffering from a work-related illness, it’s clear that more still needs to be done to make employers aware of dangers to their staff within the workplace. Of course not all of these illnesses are related to hazardous substances but, despite being in place for 25 years, the existence of COSHH is still unknown to many companies, with many employers not even aware of the need to run risk assessments.
The simplified procedures should help to reduce danger or illness in the workplace relating to hazardous substances and make exposure easier to control. Many small businesses, such as florists or hairdressers, don’t have the capacity to manage complicated paperwork but of course they want to protect their employees from harm. The HSE says that it is aiming to promote ‘proportionate risk management’, making understanding and adhering to the law more streamlined and easier for companies to understand and to comply with.
Focus on Risk, not Writing
The HSE estimates that the cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions is £14.1 billion per annum (2014/15). That’s a figure that the HSE is intent on reducing. Whilst the HSE has not gone into detail yet about how it plans to simplify COSHH, it says it wants ‘shorter, simpler regulations’, placing more emphasis on risk control and less on written assessment.
Beware of a lack of clarity
The HSE will need to clarify what actions need to be taken to protect employees. In their attempt to simplify the new regulations, the HSE needs to make sure the rules are not hazy and that ‘proportionate’ management is explained.
Plenty of guidance provided by HSE
If you are concerned that your employees are potentially exposed to hazardous substances, you can find a range of helpful guides such as the COSHH Essentials guidance , e-tool, and tailored COSHH support on the HSE website for smaller companies, such as hairdressers, beauticians, caterers and bakeries.