COSHH is a UK law that requires employers to control workplace substances that are hazardous to health. An employer must reduce or prevent exposure to all hazardous substances under the occupational health and safety regulations. Failure to do so can have serious repercussions for the company and the workforce.
Individual workers who have been subject to health risks may develop life-changing industrial diseases, while the employer can receive costly fines for breaches of COSHH regulations.
We’re taking a look at some high-profile cases and the scale of the punishment received when companies have been fined for breaching COSHH laws.
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What is COSHH?
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 protects UK employees from suffering ill health due to working with hazardous chemicals and other harmful substances.
Every employer must determine what the health hazards are and devise a plan to prevent harm to health through carrying out a risk assessment. Control measures must be put in place and kept in good working order to reduce or remove the risks of industrial diseases.
In addition, an employer must provide the relevant information and training for employees and other people entering the building who may be at risk. In appropriate cases, employee health monitoring should be provided.
Regular health and safety inspections should be carried out to spot any potential issues. In all cases, the company should plan for emergencies so they can cope with the worst-case scenario in the event of an accident or major incident.
Debilitating lung conditions
An aircraft ejector seat manufacturer was fined £800,000 after workers developed a debilitating lung condition due to exposure to the mist from working metal fluid.
The Crown Court heard how respiratory risks were largely uncontrolled, and the consequent health effects were not monitored. Three skilled engineering CNC operators had worked there for more than 20 years. They developed a lung condition, extrinsic allergic alveolitis, after at least three years’ exposure to the fluid mist.
The Health and Safety Executive heard that the measures in place in the factory to provide employee protection were inadequate. No extraction was installed to control the mist. There were also failings in the required health surveillance.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As well as being fined £800,000, they had to pay costs of more than £36,000.
One employee’s health had been “severely and permanently” damaged, while the other two had been impacted by the condition, which they must live with for the rest of their life.
As well as causing the serious lung disease extrinsic allergic alveolitis, exposure to metalworking fluids can cause occupational asthma, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, bronchitis, breathing difficulties and skin irritation.
Exposure to styrene
A manufacturing company was fined £8,500 due to putting workers’ health at risk from exposure to styrene. The HSE investigated after a routine health and safety inspection revealed employees were at risk of exposure to the toxic substance.
They had been warned to rectify the health hazard 22 months earlier but had failed to do so. Although the manufacturer used styrene in the production process of its products, the HSE found there were no adequate procedures in place to control exposure. Nor was there an extraction system in place to remove the toxic substance from the air. The employees were not wearing filtered masks to combat inhalation.
The health effects of inhaling styrene include irritation to the throat, nose and lungs and neurological problems such as headaches, nausea and drowsiness.
As well as the fine, the company was ordered to pay costs of £4,500. The HSE said employers must take action to ensure they protect the health of their employees.
An automobile body shop was fined £20,000 for failing to provide a competent person to check a spray booth where isocyanate paints were used.
Isocyanate exposure is a leading cause of occupational asthma. Each year, 50 employees in the UK who have been exposed to isocyanate paint are forced to leave the industry due to health issues.
The business was fined after failing to ensure compliance with a notice issued by the HSE calling for improvements to its accident repair centre. Employees working in a spray booth should wear air-fed breathing apparatus for respiratory protection and should have their health monitored to look for asthma symptoms.
The booth must be running at negative pressure, ensuring the air is being drawn into industrial ventilation equipment so the mist from the paint doesn’t leak into the general workshop.
Staff must wear PPE, while chemical safety signs and hazardous goods labels produced to meet BS 5378 standards should remind employees to use best practises when handling hazardous chemicals.
A furniture manufacturer was fined £8,000 for exposing employees to “significant quantities” of hardwood dust – a hazardous substance that can cause nasal cancer and occupational asthma.
An HSE inspection found the company’s extraction system was inefficient, leaving the employer in breach of environmental health and safety regulations. The HSE had advised the business, following previous visits, about failure to achieve safety standards, but action had not been taken.
The hearing found that the company should have identified the significant quantities of hardwood dust in its workshop and done all it could to reduce employee exposure. This should have included an efficient extraction system and robust cleaning regime.
The company had to pay an additional £1,081 in costs.
A bakery chain was fined £159,080 for failing to control flour dust. The HSE found employees were continually exposed to health risks over a 14-year period. Some were diagnosed as having occupational asthma.
There was no effective means of preventing flour dust from becoming airborne and employees from breathing it in at the bakery.
Exposure to flour dust can cause severely debilitating health issues and the HSE has stressed it will not hesitate in taking enforcement action against any company falling below the required standards.
Dust and fume extraction solutions
Dust and fume extraction solutions are an important preventative measure, which helps to protect employee health, while helping with compliance. Our dust and fume extraction solutions are a proven method of reducing the risk to staff when working with hazardous materials.
AirBench provides the UK’s leading range of downdraught benches, solving dust, fume and mist extraction problems at work. Our dust extraction applications can help your business to comply with COSHH.
Our wide range of filtration options and system designs means we can produce a solution to suit almost any processes.