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Every year thousands of workers are exposed to hazardous substances, and incur injury or illness as a consequence of poor control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH). While it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that a work environment is safe; it’s in everyone’s best interest to report concerns and promote best practice. When you are exposed to hazardous substances, your health and the health of those around you is at risk.

In this article, we delve into 7 of the most common COSHH related myths and misconceptions which are contributing to chemical safety incidents.

 ‘It’s just a rash’

Managing skin exposure to chemicals at work is often given less attention than other respiratory diseases or musculoskeletal problems. The effects that chemicals can cause if exposed to skin range from harmless to lethal. While exposure to substances hazardous to health might lead to an immediate rash, symptoms and effects can also be years away.

Minimize exposure where possible and always use PPE in situations where the source cannot be controlled appropriately. Take signs of any rash seriously, and report it to your manager if you are concerned about anything.

‘I don’t see any danger, I must be safe’

Fire is a very visual hazard. We can see the fire, we are aware of its dangers, and we are trained in fire safety. Because we can see the fire, there is a constant reminder to be extra cautious.

Hazardous elements in the workplace aren’t always things that you can see, or hear. Dust, asbestos, chemicals and dangerous gases are not always visible to the human eye, and go unnoticed more frequently than they should. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

‘Of course it’s safe, we’ve always done it this way’

Sometimes effects and symptoms take years to develop. This means that while you might feel perfectly healthy now, effect of chemical exposure can only reveal themselfyears after the fact.

If you think something isn’t right where you work, it’s your responsibility to speak up. If you find yourself regularly in situations where exposure to hazardous substances is high, yet feel the current procedures in place don’t fully protect you from danger, you need to communicate this to your H&S manager.

‘It’s natural, therefore it can’t be harmful’

While this can seem like the most obvious thing in the world, it’s not true. Natural materials can in fact be very harmful. For example, concrete dust can cause silicosis and wood dust can cause asthma.

As a rule of thumb, most materials can be harmful when you are overexposed to them. However, it’s really important that you limit the exposure as much as possible and then manage the exposure carefully in situations where it cannot be avoided.

‘It’s just dust’

Dust is dry, tiny airborne particles that are produced when materials are shovelled, drilled, cut, demolished and sanded. Because dust isn’t visible to the human eye, it’s not always perceived an obvious health hazard – but it should be.

Because dust is made of such tiny particles, it will literally get in everywhere. When you breathe, dust doesn’t just cause short term respiratory problems but can lead to more serious long term lung diseases. The same goes for exposure to the eyes and skin, it’ll initially lead to irritation and will eventually cause more serious damage.

 ‘I don’t work with harmful substances’

If you think you don’t work with any harmful substances then you might want to think again. The vast majority of jobs that there are, involves exposure to substances that can be hazardous to health. Frequently used materials which are hazardous to your health include ammonia, caustic soda, silica, acetone, paints, chlorine and methylene chloride to name but a few.

‘We wear masks, problem solved’

There is often a misconception that if you just wear a mask, then all is fine. While a mask does protect you, it shouldn’t be the go to solution.  Instead of just equipping everyone with masks, there needs to be a conscious effort to control the source of exposure.

About Safety Training Scotland

Since Safety Training Scotland was founded in 2013, it has delivered courses including to over 2000 successful delegates training everyone from young people starting their careers to CEO’s. Safety Training Scotland are leading IOSH training providers in the U.K. and are passionate about changing the negative perception of health and safety training. Our highest priority is not just to inform, but also to engage and inspire.