Work with harmful materials. Shadow DOF. Developed from RAW; retouched with special care and attention; Small amount of grain added for best final impression. 16 bit Adobe RGB color profile.

Regulations and legislation for hazardous substances

Hazardous substances are commonly used in the workplace but what are the regulations and legislation that you should be following to make sure that any risk to your workers are reduced or dealt with.

When it comes to hazardous substances there are 3 main pieces of legislation that you should be aware of. These are as follows:

  • Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)
  • Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)
  • The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012


Work with harmful materials. Shadow DOF. Developed from RAW; retouched with special care and attention; Small amount of grain added for best final impression.

COSHH is the law that requires an employer to control substances that could be hazardous to health, and this includes nano-materials. Here are a list of bullet points you can work through to help with reducing risks involved with using hazardous substances:

  • finding out what the health hazards are
  • deciding how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment)
  • providing control measures to reduce harm to health
  • making sure they are used
  • keeping all control measures in good working order
  • providing information, instruction and training for employees and others
  • providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases
  • planning for emergencies.

Most businesses will use substances or materials made from several substances that could cause harm to employees, customers, or the public. Not all hazardous substances are marked and obvious so make sure to check any new products you might use, and risk assess the accordingly.

Further information can be found on HSE’s COSHH website.


Metallurgical plant, hot metal casting

DSEAR requires an employer to control the risks of fire and explosions.

Dangerous substances can put those who come into contact with that environment at great risk. This could be customers, employees, or the public. DSEAR puts the responsibility on the employer or those who are self-employed to make sure that all risks to those who could be harmed are suitably controlled.

Dangerous substances include anything used or present at work that could, if not properly controlled, cause harm to people as a result of a fire or explosion or corrosion of metal. They can be found in nearly all workplaces and include such things as solvents, paints, varnishes, flammable gases, such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG), dusts from machining and sanding operations, dusts from foodstuffs, pressurised gases, and substances corrosive to metal.

Employers must:

  • find out what dangerous substances are in their workplace and what the risks are
  • put control measures in place to either remove those risks or, where this is not possible, control them
  • put controls in place to reduce the effects of any incidents involving dangerous substances
  • prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies involving dangerous substances
  • make sure employees are properly informed about and trained to control or deal with the risks from the dangerous substances
  • identify and classify areas of the workplace where explosive atmospheres may occur and avoid ignition sources (from unprotected equipment, for example) in those areas

The Control of Asbestos Regulations:

Man clearing asbestos from old roof / Hazardous substances

The control of asbestos regulations came into place on April 6 2012, and were released to update the previous regulations to take into account the European Commission’s view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).

Asbestos is responsible for almost 4000 deaths per year in the UK. It was used in a range of building but was commonly used in commercial buildings that were constructed before the year 2000.

The legislation now states that the “duty holder”(who is responsible for the building, so may be the owner or the person in charge of maintenance) must conduct an assessment as to whether the building contains asbestos. If asbestos is present but in good condition and undisturbed it can be left but will need to be closely monitored to avoid it becoming an issue. If asbestos is found within the property and has been disturbed, then you will need to have it removed. Anyone carrying out the work should be properly trained in handling the material and should be aware of the risks involved.


COSHH, DSEAR and the control of asbestos are all important when it comes to keeping your workforce safe from hazardous substances and other laws such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 set out the responsibility for employers to protect their workers and the public from the effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

the close-up shot of blue color hazardous dangerous chemical barrels.

How to ensure that your business is COSHH compliant

Last updated in 2002, the control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) helps business to identify and reduce the risks to their workforce when dealing potentially dangerous substances.


The law states that an employer must control substances that are hazardous to the workforce’s health, as an employer you should:GHS icon set - COSHH

·      find out what the health hazards are

·      decide how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment)

·      provide control measures to reduce harm to health

·      make sure they are used

·      keep all control measures in good working order

·      provide information, instruction and training for employees and others

·      provide monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases

·      plan for emergencies.


It’s very common for businesses to either use substances, or products thatcontain a mixture of substances. There may also be processes in place that create hazardous substances which could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people.


Sometimes substances are easily recognised as harmful. Common substances such as paint, bleach or dust from natural materials may also be harmful.

Most substances that are hazardous to health are covered by COSHH however some will need their own risk assessments, substances include:

·      chemicalsHazardous Chemicals storage Locker with various Containers Inside

·      products containing chemicals

·      fumes

·      dusts

·      vapours

·      mists

·      nanotechnology

·      gases and asphyxiating gases and

·      biological agents (germs). If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols, then it is classed as a hazardous substance.

·      germs that cause diseases such as leptospirosis or legionnaires disease and germs used in laboratories.


Areas not covered by COSHH are:

·      Lead

·      Asbestos

·      Radioactive substances



If you’re self-employed COSHH regulations will still apply to your business as it not only covers employees but anyone who may be affected by the substances you’re using. Not all parts of COSHH regulations will apply, those about monitoring and health surveillance will not apply to your business.


What do you need to do?

The first thing you will need to consider when doing your COSHH is:

·      What do you do that involves hazardous substances?

·      How can these cause harm?

·      How can you reduce the risk of harm occurring?

You should also do as much as you can to stop any exposure by identifying and stopping it at source, for example:

·      Can you avoid using a hazardous substance or use a safer process – preventing exposure, e.g using water-based rather than solvent-based products, applying by brush rather than spraying?

·      Can you substitute it for something safer – e.g swap an irritant cleaning product for something milder, or using a vacuum cleaner rather than a brush?

·      Can you use a safer form, e.g can you use a solid rather than liquid to avoid splashes or a waxy solid instead of a dry powder to avoid dust?

If you’re struggling to think of risks that might apply to your business, you can always ask employees or if you attend trade meetings as them for ideas.

In some cases, you won’t be able to prevent the exposure to certain substances and therefore you will need to start planning on how you can control it.

The HSE states that “Control is adequate when the risk of harm is ‘as low as is reasonably practicable’.” This means:

·      All control measures are in good working order.

·      Exposures are below the Workplace Exposure Limit, where one exists.

·      Exposure to substances that cause cancer, asthma or genetic damage is reduced to as low a level as possible.


Switching up your substances

If a substance you currently use is causing issues, then you might be able to reduce or mitigate the risks by changing it. For example

·      substituting a powder for a liquid

·      removing the need to weigh out powders by buying it pre-packed.

Below are six steps to practical, well thought out decisions about substance substitution.

1.     Decide whether the substance or process is a hazard. Does storing, using or disposing a substance cause significant risks or exposure?

2.     Look for and identify any alternatives.

3.     Run the same checks against the alternatives as you have your current substance. (Storing, using and disposing).

4.     Decide whether substituting the substance will reduce risks.

5.     Introduce the substitute.

6.     Assess how it is working.

For more information about the effect of substances you use visit the HSE REACH web pages. You can also ask supplies or trade associates about what substitutions can be made and look for advice from other businesses in your industry.


Other considerations:


Exposure limits: How are you being exposed (skin, breathing etc) and what are the exposure limits on the substances being used?


Chemical safety data sheets: Use the safety data sheets for chemicals you’re using to help with your risk assessment.


Control measures: Consider using a wide variety of control measures, these could be ways of working, control equipment or worker behaviour. 


Permits: Some tasks may require experts and therefore using a permit to work will help identify who will be carrying out the work and when it will be completed.


PPE: Employers and responsible for the supply of the correct PPE, so make sure your employers have the correct equipment for any given exposure.


Monitoring: You may need to put monitoring systems in place to show compliance with a WEL (Workplace Exposure Limit) or BMGV (Biological Monitoring Guidance Value) or when you need to show that control equipment or personal protective equipment is working well enough.


Health Surveillance: Monitoring the health of your employees to make sure they are not falling ill or unwell from work. This is not to be confused with general health screening could involve a scheduled annual check-up on, for example: lung function and skin conditions.


Training: Providing appropriate training for those who will be subject to exposure of the hazardous substances. This involves anyone who may be involved in cleaning and maintenance.


Emergencies: Make sure your business has a plan for accidents, incidents, and emergencies. This includes equipment, people, training, procedures and arrangements of any waste created.


For more information on COSHH and everything we have gone over, visit HSE.