Education needed

Issue 62

COSHH Management: How to protect workers within the UK

With 13,000 fatalities every year linked to prolonged exposure to dangerous substances at work, primarily chemicals or dust (according to the HSE) the correct management of hazardous substances is vital. However, according to a recent survey, commissioned by the UK’s leading technology enabled risk assessment solution company, Alcumus, 54 per cent of UK companies reported only having ‘some’ level of awareness of COSHH (Control of Substance Hazardous to Health).

These findings highlight the need for better internal training for both employers and employees about the importance of protecting themselves against hazardous substances, which includes everything from cleaning products to sophisticated chemicals and the by-products of engineering processes. This applies especially to the manufacturing sector, as it’s one of the UK’s economic success stories, contributing 25 per cent of the country’s GDP and employing more than 2.7 million people across the UK. Given the complex and varied nature of work involved, it is imperative that those who operate within the sector are appropriately protected from all health and safety risks.

The survey, which questioned 120 UK companies across a variety of industries including manufacturing, found that a lack of perceived threat was the biggest barrier to increasing COSHH awareness. The second largest barrier at 28 per cent was a lack of awareness among staff members. What’s more, 45 per cent of manufacturing organisations admit that they require more support and training on COSHH.

Moyna Merrison, Director of COSHH Management at Alcumus Sypol said: “The findings highlight that more training needs to be carried out internally to ensure employees understand the reasoning behind certain processes and the risks they face from harmful workplace hazards. It’s quite troubling to read that companies readily admit that they are not fully COSHH compliant and are well aware of their non-compliance, especially in a complex industry like manufacturing.

“Training on external systems, including Alcumus Sypol’s CMS software, which enables businesses to create and deliver fully compliant, task based COSHH assessments, is vital to streamlining processes and ensuring a safe working environment.”

As well as training on software, employers need to ensure they are educating their workers on the health implications they could face from exposure to the chemicals they use day to day. Eight per cent of manufacturing staff aren’t aware of the health risks of the hazardous substances they could be exposed to. Employers need to take charge and raise awareness amongst workers to ensure they know the risks associated with insufficient protection. Although the statistics show that a concerted effort has been made to educate workers, eight per cent of the working population is still too high a number to not understand the dangers of common chemicals, especially given how many people work within the sector. What’s more, employers need a better understanding of what managing their COSHH entails and how often they should be doing it; simply creating a one-off list of chemicals within a business and how to use them isn’t sufficient.

Proactive rather than reactive
The Alcumus’ Sypol survey also found that one of the key drivers for companies investing in a COSHH strategy is the threat posed by near misses and incidents. This illustrates that UK businesses need to be far more proactive when investing in COSHH management rather than waiting for accidents to occur. As general health and safety awareness increases among industries including working at height, mental health, hearing and eye protection, clearly COSHH management is still an area that needs improving in terms of education and prevention.

“The problem we have with awareness surrounding COSHH management is that the effects of exposure, unless the chemical is flammable or erosive, won’t be detected until much later. Occupational lung disease kills 12,000 people every year. However, as it’s a long latency disease it’s not until years later that people feel the impact, meaning the consequences of hazardous working conditions aren’t always considered at the time. This needs to change in order to keep our workers safe. Our research clearly highlights that education is the main challenge that requires attention, for both employees and employers. Gathered from both the survey findings and our own research into COSHH management in the manufacturing sector, it certainly appears that there is a lot more that needs to be done before the industry can be considered compliant across most aspects of COSHH management,” concludes Moyna.

Alcumus is a market-leading provider of technology-enabled compliance risk management, certification and accreditation services. Alcumus Sypol has launched a whitepaper exploring how the manufacturing sector can help safeguard the health of its employers from hazardous substances.

Education needed