Risk Assessment

The purpose of the COSHH assessment is to identify how to prevent, or adequately control, workers’ exposure to hazardous substances. The University’s COSHH assessment pro-forma and the accompanying notes on completion (Appendix 1) are designed to help the assessment process. Other assessment formats are also acceptable (e.g. incorporating assessments into laboratory SOPs) provided that they adequately address the points set out below.

It is usually preferable to adopt an activity-based approach to COSHH assessments, rather than making individual assessments for all the substances to which workers may be exposed. The assessment should be made by someone who is familiar with the activity, who has access to the relevant information and who has the knowledge and experience to make good judgements about the risks involved and the actions needed to minimise them. In many cases, further advice will be needed and this can be obtained from the departmental safety officer, area or divisional safety officer, or the University Safety Office.

The COSHH assessment must be carried out before work with hazardous substances takes place. It must consider the following points.

(a) Is it likely that a work activity could endanger someone’s health?

The assessment should:

 (i) consider the substances that are present, used or produced

 (ii) identify the properties of the substances (e.g. are they volatile, or dusty?)

 (iii) identify the hazards associated with those substances (e.g. are they toxic, harmful, irritant?)

 (iv) identify possible exposure routes (e.g. by inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion from contaminated hands)

 (v)  identify all those at risk of exposure (e.g. workers, cleaners, maintenance staff, other visitors)

 (vi) pay special attention to those who may be unusually vulnerable, either by virtue of their physical condition (e.g. pregnant or nursing mothers; or people with certain medical conditions), or because their relative inexperience requires a high degree of supervision (e.g. work experience or undergraduate students).

The information provided on material safety data sheets (MSDS) will help in assessing points (i) to (iii). However, MSDS do not, in themselves, constitute a COSHH assessment, as they take no account of the circumstances in which the substances are used.

(b) Have significant risks of exposure been identified?

If so, then control measures will need to be specified. In general, engineering controls such as laboratory fume cupboards, or local exhaust ventilation (LEV) for woodworking machinery and for welding or other fumes are already available, although the assessment may identify the need for more. Personal protective equipment (for respiratory, skin or eye protection) may also be needed, as may specific working procedures. Control measures are considered in more detail in section 7.

(c) Should the assessment be recorded?

In general, it should, although the information recorded should be proportionate to the risk identified. For work using substances commonly found in offices (e.g. correcting fluids, adhesives, photocopier toners), it is sufficient to make a generic assessment.  This can be done by listing the substances, noting that they must be used in accordance with the supplier’s or manufacturer’s instructions, and concluding that their use in this way presents little or no risk to health. A more comprehensive record will be needed occasionally where work presents a greater risk to health and the COSHH assessment form should be used.

(d) Does the assessment have to be reviewed?

The assessment is intended to be a working document and it must be reviewed if there is evidence that it is no longer valid (e.g. following a change in the substance or the form of a substance used in a procedure, or a major change in work practices; following defects or a breakdown in control measures, where results of health surveillance have identified work-related ill health; where there is new information on the health effects of exposure to a substance).

It is good practice to carry out regular reviews of COSHH assessments. As an absolute minimum, assessments must be reviewed every five years, but higher risk procedures should be kept under close scrutiny and reviewed more frequently.

Appendix 3 shows how assessment should be approached for common University activities.