10 Things you need to know about COSHH Risk assessments

by Ken Buckley on 08-8-2017


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Okay so you have been told you've got to do COSHH risk assessments for your cleaning chemicals.

Where do you go for help? What do you need to know?

This guide gives you ten things you should know about before embarking on this painful process. 

1/ What is the point of a COSHH assessment?

It is to identify the risks from hazardous chemicals in your workplace. That is, specific to your workplace, how the chemicals are used, who they are used by and how long are they used for. 

This is very different from a SDS Safety Data Sheet, as you will see as you read on. 


2/ Use a relevant COSHH risk assessment form 

I have seen all sorts of COSHH risk assessment templates, from the very simple, with not enough information on, to the irrelevant, with fields that do not apply to cleaning chemicals. 

So make sure you use a risk assessment form that is relevant to cleaning chemicals. You may have problems with your companies red tape here, with HS managers trying to insist on the company template being used. I would push back here, if they were designed for another industry or trade. 


3/ Use the SDS sheets

Make sure you have the current SDS (Safety Data Sheet) for all the chemicals you need to do assessments for. 

A lot of the task of carrying out a COSHH risk assessment is getting information off the SDS sheet and entering it onto the risk assessment. However...


4/ The SDS says I must use a respirator, do I really need to?!

When you look at some SDS sheets they may well scare you silly! I well remember looking at a SDA sheet for a rinse free polish stripper and it said very clearly that you should use a respirator and the grade of respirator they stated was basically a NATO grade.

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Well you do not need to wear a NATO grade respirator when stripping polished floors, but how are you supposed to know that, when that is what it says on the SDS? 

Why do the SDS lead you astray here? Well you need to understand that the SDS is not a task specific risk assessment, (that what you are doing now) but a legal document that covers the neat chemical in any quantity including a road tanker full of it. (not a cleaner using 5 litres of a  1:60 dilution solution of the product for a couple of hours) 

The best answer here is ring and speak to the  suppliers of the product and ask for their advice, if you are not sure. They will advise you accordingly. The SDS sheet is not a risk assessment and it does not take into account how the product is used and whether it is diluted or not. You need to do this in the assessment, how will it be used? Who will use it? How long will they be exposed to it and at what concentration? 

It could be appropriate to enter something like this " Due to the way the product is diluted and the time it is used for, respiratory protection is not needed" 


5/ You should record your assessment 

HSE says "If you have five or more employees, you must record your assessment" . 

This can be digitally recorded or stored, you don't have to have a physical copy. As long as you know where to find it. 


6/ The most important part of an assessment 

They also say "the really important part is making a list of the actions you have taken to control the risks to workers' health" see "How to carry out a COSHH risk assessment"

This can be things like issuing goggles and gloves or limiting the time one person uses a chemical or carry out staff training


7/ How often should you review and update?

They should be "regularly" reviewed. What does that mean? 

I would say if anything significant changes, like the length of time worker using the product greatly increases or the chemical formula changes, then you need to review. 

With no changes, I would recommend that you review them formally every 3 - 5 years. 


8/ Understand the meaning of the CLP Corrosive  symbol 

You need to understand the difference between a product that could blind your staff and a product that is just a biocide. 

In the  CLP symbols that replaced the old orange CHIP symbols, the corrosive symbol is very misleading. You can have a relatively safe product like washing up liquid with the same warning symbol as a very dangerous product like oven cleaner.

Read "Cleaning Chemicals and the Corrosive Symbol" 


Take care when you see this symbol, cut through the fog by carefully reading the SDS sheet and if needed seek advice from your supplier. 

You don't need goggles for doing the washing up, however you do very much need eye protection when using an oven cleaner. 


9/ The KISS principle applies 

There are lots of different  variants of the acronym KISS, but the original, thought to be first coined by a Lockheed engineer called Kelly Johnson is;

Keep It Simple Stupid 

It basically means that the simpler something is the more effective it will be and the more readily it will be used.

This applies to risk assessments.

They need to be very simple and understandable by a child. If they are not, they are a waste of time. 


10/ Act on the assessment 

If you identify in the assessment, that you need to take action, like issue goggles or gloves, make sure that you action this.

If you can't directly action, keep checking with the relevant person, until the action has been completed. Then update the assessment with a date of when this was done.

This is the most important thing to do. If you don't action an assessment, what is the point of doing it in the first place?


If you need any help with completing an assessment on a cleaning chemical, drop me a line ken.buckley@adswsupplies or give me a call 01626 357545.


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