Using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put the health of staff, pupils and others at risk. Schools have a legal duty under COSHH to ensure hazardous substances are stored, handled and used safely.
Many of you will have heard of COSHH, but are not quite sure of the details. Below we have highlighted some of the key areas of COSHH including what it covers and your legal duties.
COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. It is the legislation that details key responsibilities to prevent or minimise the risk of exposure to harmful substances in the workplace.
Hazardous substances are any substance with the potential to cause harm if inhaled, ingested, injected or absorbed through the skin or released into the environment. They come in many different forms including solids, liquids, gases and fumes.
Common examples of hazardous substances used in schools include cleaning products, chemicals used within the science department and paints/solvents used in art and D&T.
COSHH requires that hazardous substances are labelled with the appropriate classification and hazard warning symbols. Labels help to identify hazardous chemicals, explain what the hazards are and how to avoid them.
The labelling of chemicals have recently changed to ensure hazardous chemicals are classified, labelled and packaged the same in every country.
This is how they used to look:
This is how they look now:
The overall legal accountability for health and safety is the responsibility of the employer, however the day-to-day management of health and safety is normally delegated to the head teacher and the school management team.
Who the employer is will vary according to which type of school you are. Further guidance on who the schools employer is can be found here.
Employer’s duties under COSHH include:
Employee’s duties under COSHH include:
There are many areas of COSHH that we have not covered, including health effects and how to manage and control the risks from exposure to hazardous substances. Our online COSHH awareness course provides all of the key information you might need, and ensures you are competent by providing you with a certificate on successful completion of the assessment. Take a look at the course here.
As well as this, our free COSHH risk assessment template allows you to assess and document precautions and control measures for hazardous substances.
The HSE also offers a lot of free guidance on the key areas of COSHH and suitable control measures.