All UK employers have an obligation to protect workers from exposure to chemical hazards by carefully controlling chemicals used in the workplace. It’s not just good business practice: these protections are legally binding under COSHH regulations.
A careful risk assessment and the appropriate preventative measures will keep you from violating workplace safety regulations. In this guide, we begin to discover what it takes to manage chemicals to prevent chemical exposure.
Inventory Your Chemical Hazards
A chemical inventory is the key to assessing and preventing any chemical-related risk. After all, you can’t understand the risks faced if you haven’t named them. Understanding your hazards and classifying them by group and sub-group will help you identify and then communicate the exposure risks on your job site. Equally it will help:
- Keep you compliant with UK legislation
- Better manage chemical stocks
- Assist emergency services in the event of an accident
Remember to keep these records up-to-date to continue to pass government compliance audits.
Understand the Risk of Exposure
Workplace exposure limits (WELs) present a challenge in understanding the risks linked to chemical exposure. The HSE sets WELs to go along with the COSHH regulations. However, there are only WELs for 500 or so chemicals, and these are the legal limits, not necessarily the safest for all workers. This means it can be difficult to understand the harm potentially caused by an exposure outside of the WELs listed. After all, there’s no safe exposure to chemicals.
As a result, it’s easier to prepare to minimise and prevent exposure wherever possible and use monitoring as confirmation that your controls are working and you’re meeting COSHH obligations, rather than measuring site safety based solely on meeting or falling below any particular WEL.
Remember that you need to understand the risk of exposure at all points including:
- Using chemicals on the job site
- Storing chemicals
- Disposing of chemicals
Prevent and Minimise Exposure
Preventing and minimising the exposure to chemicals means taking multiple recorded measures to 1) avoid any unsafe exposures and 2) provide fail-safes in the event an exposure can’t be prevented.
Chemical safety procedures require the chemical inventory mentioned earlier as well as:
- Completing a chemical risk assessment and publishing it with chemical safety data sheets
- Establishing safe work procedures
- Training employees on chemical safety and safety procedures
- Providing and maintaining an inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Creating the appropriate safety chemical storage systems
Create and Test Emergency Plans in Case of Exposure
Your workplace should already have emergency procedures suited for floods, fires, injuries, and explosions. You also need one for use in the event of a chemical spill or another type of dangerous exposure.
Depending on the types of and quantities of chemicals in your inventory, your plan may need to abide by Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations. For example, the oil and gas industries must usually have COMAH compliant emergency plans.
The HSE provides helpful guidance on what to include in your emergency procedures, including considerations like:
- Providing plans for night shifts, weekends, and anytime when your premises is closed
- Nominating competent people to take control
- Planning for essential shutdowns of processes or entire facilities
- Training every worker in emergency procedures
Work with a Chemical Safety Specialist
The best way to protect workers from chemical hazards and avoid regulatory fines is to identify the risks of chemical exposure, plan to eliminate or mitigate the risk of exposure, and always have an emergency plan in case of exceptions.
Safe chemical storage is a key part of your chemical safety plan, and that’s why it’s important to work with a partner who understands how to go beyond COSHH regulations. Safety Storage Systems has 20 years of expertise in helping site management professionals build strong safety plans. Get in touch to talk to a chemical storage expert.