COSHH and Workplace Safety:

Understanding the Risks

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. It is a set of regulations designed to protect workers from ill health due to exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. Here are the key points:

  • Purpose: To control exposure to materials that can cause ill health.
  • Substances Covered: Includes dusts, gases, fumes, liquids, gels, powders, micro-organisms, etc.
  • Health Risks: Can cause diseases like asthma, cancer, skin damage, and long-term lung damage.
  • Employer Responsibilities: Assess risks, provide control measures, ensure their use, maintain them, and provide training and monitoring.
A Brief Guide to COSHH

For more detailed information, you can refer to the HSE’s COSHH basics or the British Safety Council’s guide on COSHH.

In busy workplaces, where machines hum and workers move, there are dangers that can make people very sick. COSHH regulations help protect workers from harmful substances like chemicals that can cause asthma, cancer, and skin problems.

Mercury in Hat Making:

The phrase “Mad as a Hatter” harks back to the days when mercury was used in hat making, causing mental illness among workers.

In the UK, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, mercury was used in the process of felting hats.

This practice was common in the hat-making industry, which was a significant trade during that time.

Health Consequences:

The use of mercury led to mercury poisoning among hat makers, causing symptoms such as

  • tremors (known as “hatter’s shakes”),
  • slurred speech
  • emotional instability
  • hallucinations.

These symptoms collectively contributed to the notion of being “mad”.

Hence, the phrase “mad as a hatter” entered the English language to describe someone with erratic or unpredictable behaviour, likely due to the observable effects of mercury poisoning on hatters.

Regulation Changes:

Over time, as the dangers of mercury became more widely recognised, regulations were put in place to eliminate its use in hat making. This has helped to reduce the incidence of these health issues.

It serves as a historical example of the dangers posed by hazardous substances.

COSHH - hazardous-substances-observe-correct-precautions-signs

Not paying attention to these risks has serious consequences:

  • Companies have to spend a lot of money replacing workers who get sick, which can disrupt work and cost a lot.
  • Society has to pay for things like disability benefits and medical care for workers who get sick from their jobs.
  • Individuals struggle with losing their jobs and dealing with health and money problems if they get sick.

Prevention is crucial in keeping workers safe from hazardous substances. Following safety rules, providing good training, and being proactive about avoiding risks can help protect workers from getting sick at work.

We need to take action to ensure workplaces are safe for everyone. Every worker who knows how to stay safe, has the right equipment, and is protected can help create a workplace where safety is a priority.

Let’s keep the past reminders of the dangers of hazardous substances in history and not let them happen today.

Following COSHH rules isn’t just about obeying the law; it’s about doing what’s right to keep our workers safe.

Let’s commit to ensuring safety, promoting the best practices, and building strong defences to protect those who keep our industries running.

By working together, we can create a future where the heart-breaking statistic of 12,000 deaths each year from occupational lung diseases reminds us of the need to safeguard, preserve, and empower those who drive our progress.