There are a large number of chemicals and substances which can damage the health of people in the workplace. These hazardous substances are defined by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (CoSHH) 2002, and this covers the majority of materials capable of causing ill health in a work situation.
The CoSHH Regulations (COSHH) lay down the essential requirements and a step-by-step approach for the control of hazardous substances and for protecting people exposed to them in the workplace.
This article specifically examines what to do when CoSHH regulations have been adhered to, however an accident still occurs.
It is essential that employers have an established emergency procedure in place to deal with incidents of a serious nature.
An accident or emergency can occur when an employee is exposed to a hazardous substance over and above their usual daily limit.
A number of situations could result in emergency action being put into effect, such as:
A serious fire could trigger serious risks to health.
A serious chemical spillage which could lead to contact with an employees' skin.
A loss of control of biological, carcinogenic or mutagenic agents.
An emission of toxic fumes.
The employer will decide whether the incident requires the emergency procedure to come into effect. Employers also need to decide the relevant action to deal with the situation as not all incidents for example require workplace evacuation.
To deal with incidents that could present high risk, employers should ensure their emergency procedures include the following:
Which chemicals are present in the workplace and where they are stored and used and how much is utilised on a daily basis.
What kind of accidents or emergencies could occur involving these substances? Recognise where these incidents could occur and the effects they could have.
Any special arrangements to deal with an emergency situation not covered by general procedures.
The safety equipment and PPE (personal protective equipment) to be used in case of an accident or emergency. Details of where the equipment is and who has authority to use it.
The availability of first aid equipment. This can be used until the emergency services arrive. Safety data sheets will specify minimum emergency first aid action to be undertaken in case of eye/skin contact, fume inhalation, or substance ingestion.
Employees who have specific roles, responsibilities and authority during an emergency situation should be made fully aware of their duties. Also, other employees should be shown procedures to follow in case of emergency.
Workers need to be made aware of procedures relating to clearing up and the safe disposal of hazardous substances.
There should be frequent safety drills so that employees can practise emergency procedures. There should be a suitable warning system such as a continuous or intermittent ringing bell or warning lights.
Consideration for disabled employees.
Employers need to ensure that the emergency procedures are reviewed and updated regularly. If circumstances should change, e.g. an increased usage in a particular hazardous chemical, then emergency procedures should reflect this change.
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