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Subject: Important changes to British regulations for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

Important changes to British regulations for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

From: Alan Phenix <alan.phenix<-a>
Date: Thursday, October 13, 2005
I have recently become aware of some significant changes in the
British 'Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
(COSHH)' which I have a feeling might not be widely known about by
conservators in the UK.

The most recent form of the COSHH Regulations were introduced in
2002, but there has recently been published an amended version of
the 2002 Regulations which is now available in print as:

    Control of substances hazardous to health. The Control of
    Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended).
    Approved Code of Practice and guidance L5 (Fifth edition). HSE
    Books. 2005. ISBN 0-7176-2981 3.

Under the unamended Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
Regulations 2002 (COSHH) it became the duty of an employer to ensure
that exposure of employees and/or any other persons to hazardous
chemical substances is either prevented or adequately controlled. In
order to comply with COSHH 2002 eight steps must be followed:

    Step 1: Assess the risks to health from hazardous substances
    used in or created by your workplace activities.

    Step 2: Decide what precautions are needed   work which could
    expose your employees to hazardous substances must not be
    carried out without first considering the risks and the
    necessary precautions, and what else you need to do to comply
    with COSHH.

    Step 3: Prevent or adequately control exposure of employees to
    hazardous substances. Where preventing exposure is not
    reasonably practicable, then it must be adequately controlled

    Step 4: Ensure that control measures are used and maintained
    properly and that safety procedures are followed.

    Step 5: Monitor the exposure of employees to hazardous
    substances, if necessary.

    Step 6: Carry out appropriate health surveillance where your
    assessment has shown this is necessary or where COSHH sets
    specific requirements.

    Step 7: Prepare plans and procedures to deal with with
    accidents, incidents and emergencies involving hazardous
    substances, where necessary.

    Step 8: Ensure employees are properly informed trained and

However, in April 2005 the HSE additionally introduced a new
approach to good practice and the use of occupational exposure
limits in COSHH.  The requirements for good practice described above
have been developed further by the introduction of eight essential
working principles:

    *   processes and activities should be designed and operated to
        minimise emission, release and spread of substances
        hazardous to health.

    *   all relevant routes of exposure inhalation, skin absorption
        and ingestion should be taken into account when developing
        control measures.

    *   exposure should be controlled by measures that are
        proportionate to the health risk.

    *   the most effective and reliable control options should be
        chosen which minimise the escape and spread of substances
        hazardous to health.

    *   where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by
        other means, in combination with other control measures,
        suitable personal protective equipment should be provided.

    *   all elements of control measures should be checked and
        reviewed regularly for their continuing effectiveness.

    *   all employees should be informed and trained on the hazards
        and risks from the substances with which they work and the
        use of control measures developed to minimise the risks.

    *   it should be ensured that the introduction of control
        measures does not increase the overall risk to health and

Occupational Exposure Limits:

Up until 6th April 2005, the COSHH Regulations 2002 were supported
by information on the permissible exposure levels for specific
substances that were reported in the associated documents:

    Guidance Note EH40/2002. 'Occupational Exposure Limits 2002, and
    Supplement 2003. HSE  2002/2003.

In those editions of the Guidance Note EH40, as in previous
editions, permissible exposure levels are reported as either
Occupational Exposure Standards (abbreviated to OESs) or as Maximum
Exposure Limits (abbreviated to MELs).  Each of these sets of limits
had long  and short term reference periods.

To remind those not so familiar with these exposure limit

    Occupational Exposure Standards (OESs)

        An OES was set at a level at which (based on current
        scientific knowledge) there was no indication of risk to the
        health of workers exposed by inhalation day after day.  The
        OES was the concentration of an airborne substance, averaged
        over a specific reference period (either 8 hour, t.w.a. or
        15 minute reference period [STEL]), at which, according to
        current knowledge, there was no evidence that it was likely
        to be harmful by prolonged exposure.  Short Term Exposure
        Limits [STELs] were set to help prevent effects, such as eye
        irritation, which may occur following a few minutes

    Maximum Exposure Limits (MELs)

            A MEL was set for substances which may cause the most
            serious health effects, such as cancer, reproductive
            defects, or occupational asthma, and for which 'safe'
            levels of exposure could not be determined.  A MEL was
            also set for substances which, although safe levels may
            exist, it was not reasonably practicable to control to
            those levels. The Maximum Exposure Limits (MEL) was the
            maximum concentration of an airborne substance, averaged
            over a reference period, to which employees could be
            exposed to in the workplace: it was not to be exceeded.
            Most of the MEL figures covered an 8 hour, time weighted
            average, but some substances which give rise to acute
            effects were assigned short term MELs. Substances which
            were assigned MELs were report in Table 1 of Guidance
            Note EH40/2002. If a substance was assigned a Maximum
            Exposure Limit (MEL) it means it had quite serious
            health risks associated with it.

The other, very important, change to the COSHH Regulations 2002 and
their supporting documents introduced by the 2005 amendment is the
introduction of a new type of limit for allowable occupational
exposure levels of hazardous substances.  Now, a single type of
exposure limit, namely the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL), has been
introduced which replaces both the (Maximum Exposure Limits (MELs)
and the Occupational Exposure Standards (OESs) that operated under
COSHH 2002 and its antecedents.  The new measures introduced in 2005
will require employers to:

    *   apply the eight principles of good practice for the control
        of substances hazardous to health (described above);

    *   ensure that the WEL is not exceeded; and

    *   ensure that exposure to substances that can cause
        occupational asthma, cancer, or damage to genes that can be
        passed from one generation to another, is reduced as low as
        is reasonably practicable.

Further information on changes introduced by the amendments to COSHH
2002 can be found in the documents cited above, or at the web pages
of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

    <URL:>, and

Alan Phenix

                  Conservation DistList Instance 19:19
                 Distributed: Friday, October 14, 2005
                       Message Id: cdl-19-19-001
Received on Thursday, 13 October, 2005

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