Employers have a legal obligation to control and manage the Coronavirus, as they would any other hazardous substance in the workplace. Therefore COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) plays an important role in getting people back to work safely, during and after the pandemic. Many businesses will already have COSHH Management in place, so this can be reviewed and updated in light of COVID-19. We look at how businesses can incorporate COSHH into their COVID-Secure plans.
Covid-19 - a biological agent
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) is in place to ensure businesses control and reduce the risks associated with the use of hazardous substances at work. These regulations not only include the control of chemicals but they also cover “biological agents” such as infectious micro-organisms. Therefore, under COSHH, COVID-19 is considered as a hazardous substance and employers are legally obliged to put in place measures to keep employees safe by controlling and managing the risks of coming into contact with the virus. Whilst the vast majority of people will make a full recovery from Coronavirus there is a greater threat to those with underlying health conditions. COSHH is another consideration for employers to ensure they have adequate protection in place for people against the virus.
The government’s COVID-secure guidelines advise businesses to develop cleaning and hygiene procedures. Therefore to help keep workplaces safe and to control the risks of staff and visitors spreading infection, an increased cleaning schedule is recommended. When you consider that a single door handle contaminated by an infectious disease can spread around a building within as little as two to four hours, cleaning is hugely important. Maintaining a clean environment is key to avoiding the spread of infection and high touch points such as surfaces and door handles need regular cleaning. These more frequent cleaning regimes will potentially pose greater risks to those exposed to them, as many cleaning products are of a hazardous classification. These products will fall under COSHH and will need to be included in your COSHH risk assessment. For example, the chemicals in many disinfectants can be hazardous to the skin, eyes, mouth and lungs.
Control measures to help avoid the risks of exposure to these substances need to be put in place. This could be through using PPE (such as gloves or goggles) and ensuring adequate ventilation and safe storage, for example. An employer must ensure any changes as a result of the virus are communicated and that employees know what role they play, and have received training in the use of any hazardous substances.
Your Covid-19 workplace risk assessment will have taken into account further measures and controls to help with infection prevention and control, such as social distancing and working from home. This should be used in conjunction with COSHH to ensure that as a result of COVID-19 employers are maintaining safe working environments and measures are in place to protect everyone from the virus and controlling any risks posed directly or indirectly from it.
Cleaning hazards & considerations
It is accepted that cleaning controls are vitally important in helping prevent the spread of infection. But perhaps what is less obvious is the potential hazards of even using everyday cleaning products, particularly if they are being handled more frequently. For example, hand sanitiser that contains 60% alcohol, can dry the skin out with frequent use, which can lead to dry, cracked skin and may cause contact dermatitis, which can be uncomfortable and painful. Other considerations include the storage of any products containing 60% alcohol, as stored in large quantities these can be highly flammable. Plus general rules still stand when using cleaning products. Do not mix acid and alkali cleaners, such as bleach and descalers as they can cause violent reactions and the release of toxic chlorine gas. It is best to refer to the product labels for information on each substance to help form part of your COSHH risk assessment.
Employees need training when it comes to understanding how to protect themselves and others from hazardous substances. iHASCO’s online COSHH training course identifies hazardous substances and how they can be harmful, provides an understanding of hazard symbols and gives an understanding of COSHH Risk Assessments and what they are used for. The IOSH Approved and CPD Accredited course takes just 25 minutes to complete. You can register for a free trial today as part of your business's ongoing duty to ensure you are compliant with legislation.