The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 lists general requirements that employers have to meet in order to protect employees and other people from hazardous substances.
As well as a large number of staff, many schools (particularly primary & secondary) will also have hundreds, if not thousands of pupils to consider when thinking about COSHH and so there is often even more responsibility and pressure placed on schools; not just on COSHH but also in the wider Health & Safety spectrum. However, those in the Education sector shouldn’t panic. By following a few simple rules and familiarising the relevant people with the relevant legislation, COSHH safety in schools is actually fairly straightforward.
What is a hazardous substance?
COSHH covers substances that are hazardous to health. Substances can take many forms and include:
- products containing chemicals
- 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.
Find out more about the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), other relevant legislation here.
COSHH in schools
You will probably find multiple hazardous items in schools and it is the responsibility of employers to manage the risks that are posed by hazardous substances to staff and students. These substances could cause skin damage, burns, illnesses and even result in death if not handled properly.
By working towards compliance with the COSHH Regulations you can reduce the risks of school fires, unexpected chemical reactions and injuries from coming into contact with hazardous substances.
Are you familiar with the COSHH symbols and their meanings?
Staff and students alike should be able to recognise the COSHH symbols so that they are able to recognise a potential hazard and the harm they could cause.
Where might you find hazardous substances in schools?
Hazardous substances may be found in (but not limited to:
- cleaning supplies,
- science labs or,
- design technology labs/classrooms.
In a lot of cases, cleaners might be employed by external companies (a contractor). Under the Health & Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees, other people at work on their site, including contractors and members of the public who may be affected by their work (HSE). The HSE provides guidance on who needs Health & Safety training including contractors.
Cleaners should consider the risks that the cleaning products might have on them but they must also ensure that cleaning products are correctly stored away to protect students and staff from coming into contact with them and therefore causing harm. The appropriate person at a school should also ensure that cleaners have the correct Personal Protective Equipment to protect themselves and that the cleaners have the relevant training credentials so they don’t pose a health and safety risk.
This is arguably the most obvious place you might find a hazardous substance. Staff working with students who are working with chemicals should be well aware of the possible dangers.
Students should be told by teaching staff about possible dangers and how to control/correctly use hazardous substances before they use them. Your risk assessment should determine which preventative measures should be in place for which particular chemicals, e.g. safety goggles, lab coats, gloves or tongs.
All hazardous substances should be locked in a separate room to the classroom and students should never be left unattended when handling these.
Design & Technologies labs
Hazardous substances you may find in a D&T lab include glues, paints, cleaning products, fumes, dust and many others. Those working in D&T will probably be in regular contact with these substances so it is important that they are aware of how these can impact their health e.g. developing asthma due to the occupation.
Students and staff alike should make sure that they are wearing the correct PPE e.g. aprons, goggles, gloves and employers should also make sure that there is an appropriate ventilation system in place if they are working with products that release fumes and/or dust.
Protecting your school and students
3.—(1) Where a duty is placed by these Regulations on an employer in respect of his employees, he shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, be under a like duty in respect of any other person, whether at work or not, who may be affected by the work carried out by the employer except that the duties of the employer—
COSHH legislation places a responsibility onto employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. The HSE advises that you can aim to reduce employees/students exposure to hazardous substances by:
- Identifying the possible hazards;
- Conducting a risk assessment;
- Providing control measures to aim to reduce the risk of harm through the substances;
- Monitor the control measures to make sure they are used;
- Then ensure those control measures are in good order;
- Provide information, instruction and training to employees and others;
- Conduct health surveillance in the right cases
- Plan for emergencies
Employee and Employer Responsibilities for COSHH
Employer Responsibilities for COSHH
- Inform staff how to complete tasks safely
- Carry out regular checks and observations
- Provide appropriate health care checks for staff
- Provide PPE and ensure the equipment is fit for purpose
- And more...
Employee Responsibilities for COSHH
- Help employers to create a safe working environment
- Wear the correct safety equipment supplied
- Follow the procedures in place to protect employees from harm
- And more...
To read more in-depth about both employee and employer responsibilities, go to our ‘COSHH - Employee and Employer Responsibilities’ blog.
Who needs it?
We recommend all school staff take a form of COSHH training but appreciate that this might be slightly over the top if you have staff that never come into contact with hazardous chemicals.
We recommend, however, that the following staff receive training:
- Science teachers
- Food tech teachers
- Design and technology teachers
- Headteachers and heads of year/departments
Your risk assessment should provide more clarity on which staff require training.
Our COSHH Training Course, explains how your organisation can reduce and control the risks to your health and safety; and what you need to do if there’s an accident or emergency - this can be done by following our 6 Simple Steps: assess the risks, control exposure, monitor exposure, conduct health surveillance, protect yourself and follow procedures including emergency procedures.