How to manage COSHH for construction projects

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 is law in the UK, requiring businesses to protect employees from substances that could harm them. Although COSHH may seem like a complex topic, it’s easy to put in place straightforward strategies to identify hazards, prevent exposure and continue to monitor and protect your workforce.

COSHH PPE worker with laptop

Who is responsible for COSHH in the workplace?

We all know that health and safety is the responsibility of everyone working on a construction site and this is, of course, true for COSHH too. However, a designated person should have overall responsibility for COSHH, usually the health and safety manager, or the project or site manager on smaller jobs. On very large construction projects, each project area may have their own dedicated COSHH representative.

What substances does COSHH cover?

COSHH regulations 2002 cover a wide range of substances, including:

  • Chemical liquids and mists – such as cutting oils and sealants
  • Fumes and vapours from chemicals – such as coatings and paints
  • Dust from cutting bricks, tiles and wood
  • Gases – such as carbon monoxide or diesel fumes
  • Biological risks – such as diseases from rat infestations, stagnant water or sewage
  • Solids and powders – such as cement

Hazardous or environmentally damaging chemicals will carry international hazard pictograms.

COSHH hazard symbols

Identify every hazard

Each site and every part of the project will have specific risks and hazards. The first job is to identify and record these risks. On large and complex construction sites, this list can run into hundreds of items, but only once you have identified the risks can you minimise their impact. Much of the information you need will be readily available. Suppliers will provide COSHH information, describing the safe use of each substance.

Other hazards, such as the creation of dust through cutting materials, may be harder to identify and classify but there is plenty of information available on more common and hazardous activities, such as the exposure to silica dust. Silica dust is a concern on construction sites as prolonged exposure can lead to serious lung diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Store your information about risks centrally and make sure that it is easily accessible by anyone using the substances or auditing their use. Many activities are common to other construction projects and information can be saved and carried over to new jobs.

Conduct COSHH risk assessments

Once hazards are identified, full COSHH risk assessments should be carried out to evaluate the harm potential. The assessment should consider all individuals who may encounter the hazard, including site visitors or managerial staff, as well as team members who work directly with the substance. The risk assessment will identify who, how and where the substance is being used. The Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website contains useful information on how to conduct a COSHH risk assessment.

PlanRadar includes pre-built health and safety audit templates with COSHH fields that users can customise to include site-specific information. The forms can used by auditors or site managers, who access them via their smartphones. The cloud-based software updates and shares new data with other users in real-time.

Learn more: Read about our full range of digital report and assessment templates.

Control the risk

A risk is controlled when the danger of harm is ‘as low as reasonably practicable’. Firstly, wherever possible remove hazardous substances or replace them with safe or less risky equivalents. For example, using a wax instead of a powder to prevent dust inhalation, or using a less volatile liquid to prevent fumes. If you can’t substitute the hazardous material, then a different location may provide a safer working environment; moving a task outside or to a larger room can supply better ventilation. If the chemical still poses a risk to workers then provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). A combination of measures can eliminate or reduce the risk as far as possible. Many chemicals have exposure limits so you may need to adapt working schedules so that they work well within these and evidenced for audit purposes.

Educate, check and monitor

Everyone working with a hazardous material should be educated on the substance, the risk that it poses and how the risk can be reduced. Workers should be provided with PPE. Workers and supervisors should receive training on how to use the material safely, including what to do in an emergency. Once the plans are in place, regular checks should ensure that the risk is still being managed and that procedures are being followed. Health monitoring should also form a regular part of site audits, with any concerns escalated to the senior management teams for immediate intervention.

PlanRadar enables violations of COSHH management procedures to be reported and escalated to senior teams. Anyone can raise a ticket on their smartphone as soon as they identify a defect or health and safety risk. Users can attach images, audio notes and text to the ticket and locate the defect directly on the building blueprint. That gives supervisors the detail they need to allocate resource for immediate remedial action.

COSHH doesn’t have to be complex or overwhelming. Many COSHH assessments rely on common sense, placing worker safety firmly at the centre of all decisions. Huge amounts of free advice and guidance are available on the government’s HSE website, with up-to-date information released regularly by chemicals suppliers and through trade publications. And for your site inspections and safety reports, PlanRadar can help you to create a streamlined process.