Initially created in 1999, COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. The legislation governs an employer's duty to control any substances that pose a risk to health. It covers harmful exposure to chemicals, fumes, dusts and gases.
Hazardous substances of some sort are present in most schools - in the chemistry lab, design and technology lessons and also cleaning products. Employees and student should be familiar with the different COSHH symbols on the bottles and packaging of hazardous substances. Knowing this will help prevent accidents and understand the potential consequences if anyone does come into contact with them.
One of the most important ways to prevent COSHH-related accidents and incidents from happening is to ensure everyone is aware of the dangers of using hazardous substances as well as the dangers from incorrect handling. Teaching staff must also be trained in what to do in the case of a serious incident. In schools, management can reduce or prevent exposure to harmful substances by:
COSHH must be implemented throughout the entire school, not just in areas that hold harmful substances. However, areas of schools that may require special attention include:
The school laboratory is probably the most obvious place to start and precautionary measures must be in place to prevent an incident. In particular, the practical teaching activities in chemistry labs will frequently involve the use of chemicals, which may produce potentially hazardous substances, including fumes and gases.
Teaching staff must understand why and how to control hazardous substances in the practical teaching activities as well as relaying information to students before they have access to any substances. Pupils must always be supervised when using chemicals and a risk assessment will determine what type of PPE is required e.g. goggles, labcoats and protective gloves.
All hazardous substances should be kept locked in a separate store room. Teaching staff should sign in and out all substances and a log be maintained of the chemicals kept and used on school premises.
Hazardous substances are also likely to be present in design and technology (D&T) workrooms. On a daily basis a D&T teacher will be working with solvent-based products such as glue, paint and varnish, as well as producing dusts and fumes as a result of soldering, sanding or other fabrication processes. It’s important to understand the health risks, especially any long-term impact such as occupational asthma.
Using appropriate PPE such as goggles and visors can help prevent an incident or accident, another control measure may be to open windows and doors to classrooms or provide ventilation.
Potentially less obvious is the hazardous substances contained in school cleaning products. If children discover any cleaning chemicals, such as bleach, there is always a risk of an incident causing harm to themselves or others.
Cleaners must understand the dangers that the chemicals they use can pose to their health. They must also recognise that they are working in an environment with children so it’s especially important that they are cautious when using and removing chemicals from the school premises. Additionally, cleaning products should either be provided by the school or checked by a qualified member of staff before use.
School cleaners are often employed by an external company rather than the school. This can make the task of ensuring their training is up to date a challenge. The employer or nominated responsible person at the school must check all cleaners have the relevant COSHH training and knowledge. They are also responsible for ensuring the environment the cleaners are working in is safe. This includes ensuring that they have access to the necessary safety precautions, such as gloves.
The employer is responsible for ensuring the legal requirements of COSHH are followed in schools. In England and Wales, the local authority is considered the employer of community schools and voluntary controlled schools. The governing body is the employer of foundation schools and voluntary aided schools, while independent schools are controlled by either the governing body or proprietor. Academies and free schools are the responsibility of the Academy Trust.
Often, this responsibility is delegated to a senior member of school staff and it is their duty to carry out COSHH risk assessments, or to ensure they are undertaken. Employer responsibilities include:
All employees have a duty to follow these precautionary measures and to help keep pupils safe from harm. Staff must be familiar with safe systems of work and understand the procedures that are in place to protect them and those around them. Any incidents or accidents involving hazardous substances that could impact on someone’s health should be reported immediately. Employee responsibilities include:
A COSHH risk assessment follows a similar format as standard risk assessments with a single emphasis on hazardous substances. It should :
A school environment is constantly changing so COSHH risk assessments should be reviewed at least annually to ensure that they are still valid and up-to-date. Also:
Here is an example of school COSHH Risk Assessment template.
Tags: accident reporting