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Pollution control - hazardous substances
Every year exposure to hazardous substances at work affects the
health of many thousands of people. Common examples include:
- lung disease (for example through working in dusty
- skin irritation;
- dermatitis or skin cancer (for example from frequent
contact with oils or corrosive liquids);
- the development of other occupational cancers (for
example from exposure to toxic fumes);
- occupational asthma (for example from sensitisation to
isocyanates in paints or adhesives).
The high costs of ill-health arise from a number of causes,
including loss of earnings, loss of productivity, prosecution and
civil action, among others.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
(COSHH) Regulations 1999
These provide a framework to help protect people in the
workplace against health risks from hazardous substances. The
substances may be used directly in the work (for
example cleaning chemicals or chemical reagents) or may
arise from the work (for example dust, fumes and waste
COSHH lays down a sensible, step-by-step approach to the
necessary precautions and is therefore a useful tool for good
management. The potential for identifiable cost-benefits (for
example tighter control over the use and storage of
materials), improved morale and industrial relations have been
COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health.
Exceptions include asbestos and lead
(which have their own regulations) and substances which are
hazardous only because they are:
- used at high pressures or temperatures;
- have explosive or flammable properties.
Some definitions used in the regulations
- Hazard - the potential to cause harm.
- Risk - the likelihood that it will cause harm in the actual
circumstances of use.
The risk will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- the hazard presented by the substance;
- how it is used;
- how exposure is controlled;
- the degree and extent of exposure.
Further guidance is available on the COSHH Essentials website:
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