What does the law say?

Health and Safety Law and Environmental Law

There are a number of health and safety and environment laws that employers have a legal duty to abide by, these include: Go direct to COSHH section

See below for more details.

The Environment Act 1995 requires the Government to produce a national Air Quality Strategy (AQS) for the UK setting out air quality standards, objectives, and measures for improving ambient air quality. Under the Environment Act 2021, the Secretary of State must review the Strategy for England at least every five years, with a commitment for an initial review within 12 months of the measures coming into force. The first review will be published in 2023.

    1. Part IV of the Environment Act 1995 and Part II of the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 requires local authorities in the UK to review air quality in their area and designate air quality management areas if improvements are necessary.

Where an air quality management area is designated, local authorities are also required to work towards the Strategy’s objectives prescribed in regulations for that purpose. An air quality action plan describing the pollution reduction measures must then be put in place. These plans contribute to the achievement of air quality limit values at local level.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended) is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health dust, fumes, chemicals, biological agents such as viruses, bacteria and fungi and includes nanomaterials. Employers must prevent or reduce workers' exposure to hazardous substances by:

  • Identifying and assessing the risks of harm to health

  • deciding how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment);

  • providing control measures to prevent or adequately control exposure;

  • ensuring controls areput in place,used and maintained in good working order;

  • keeping all control measures in good working order;

  • providing information on the risk to their health, instruction and training on safe system to prevent harm for employees and others;

  • prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies;

  • ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised;

  • additionally where appropriate they must:

  • monitor the exposure of employees and non-employees who may be on the premises

  • ensure that employees who require it are under health surveillance. - see below

Most businesses use substances, or products that are mixtures of substances. Some processes create substances. These could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people.

Sometimes substances are easily recognised as harmful. As a new technology, the risks of exposure associated with nanomaterials are not currently fully understood. Whilst knowledge gaps exist, HSE recommends a precautionary approach to risk management with control strategies aiming to reduce exposure as much as possible.

Under Regulation 6 employers have an absolute duty to carry out an assessment. It is against the law for work involving hazardous substances to continue unless there has been a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health of employees. This does not simply mean collecting data sheets but the employer must assess all the substances that workers are exposed to - those with safety data sheets, those arising during the work activity, external air pollution, substances from the buildings and fixtures, and the steps needed to meet the regulations and implement them.

The risk assessment must include consideration of:

  • The hazardous properties of the substance

  • Information on health effects provided by the supplier e.g. safety data sheets

  • The level, type and duration of exposure

  • The circumstances of the work, including the amount of the substance involved

  • Activities such as maintenance and emergencies, where there is the potential for a high level of exposure

  • Any relevant occupational exposure limit (WEL)

  • The effect of preventive and control measures which have been or will be taken

  • The results of relevant health surveillance

  • The results of monitoring of exposure

  • Where work will involve exposure to more than one hazardous substance, the risk presented by combined exposure which may be additive or synergistic

  • The approved classification of any biological agent

  • Such additional relevant information from other sources the employer may need in order to complete the risk assessment

The risk assessment must be:

  • Reviewed regularly, or when there are significant changes to the work, an incident, illness or new information about hazards and risks from research.

  • Carried out by a competent person with an adequate knowledge, training and expertise in understanding the risk, know how the work activity uses or produces substances hazardous to health, have the ability and authority to collate all necessary, relevant information and have the knowledge skills and experience to make the right decisions about the risks and precautions needed.

This means there is a hierarchy of control measures that should be considered.

1. Preventing Exposure - If possible the first step should be to eliminate exposure altogether. Can the work activity that creates exposure be stopped?

2. If not then:

Substitution with a safer alternative product.

Re-designing the work process to stop the production of hazardous fumes or dust.

3. Controlling Exposure: If the hazards cannot be completely eliminated, ways must be found to reduce exposure. Preference should be given to measures which give the greatest degree of protection for the greatest number of people.

Engineering Controls:

  • Enclosure: Isolating the source of a hazardous substance from the rest of the workplace. Some workers, for example maintenance staff, will still need extra protection if they have to work inside the enclosed area.

  • Ventilation: General ventilation to ensure sufficient fresh air may be sufficient for low grade hazards. But for many substances local exhaust ventilation (LEV) will be needed. LEV should be designed to remove dust or fumes before they get into workplace air. The shape, size and location of the intake and the design of ducting and pipework can greatly affect the efficiency of the extraction.

  • Extraction: Dust or fumes drawn into the extraction system must be disposed of safely.

  • Materials handling: Dust and fumes are often produced when workers have to handle substances – for example loading ingredients into a mixer or a reactor vessel. If a powder is currently used, changing to a granular or pelletised form of the substance can reduce dust. Dust may be eliminated entirely if there is a safer liquid form.

  • Automation or mechanical aids can prevent the need for workers to lift and pour from sacks, drums or kegs. This reduces the risk of dust or splashing and could also reduce manual handling risks at the same time.

4. Organisation/Administrative Controls

  • Restricting access: Entry to areas where there is a risk of exposure should be highly controlled. Only staff who are properly trained should be allowed to work in such areas.

  • Good Housekeeping: Hazardous substances are less likely to cause problems where there are systems to clean spillages promptly and safely and where goods and materials are properly stored.

  • Washing/changing facilities: Workers exposed to hazardous substances will need washing and changing facilities, including showers in some cases. There should be secure storage for their clothes and valuables. Employers should make sure that contaminated work-wear is laundered.

5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) As a last resort, or as a temporary measure (for example, in an emergency situation) workers may have to use PPE.

  • The equipment must be suitable for the job in hand and must fit the worker properly.

  • It should comply with the relevant European standard.

  • It should be maintained and replaced as often as is necessary. Many solvents, for example, can penetrate rubber or plastic gloves surprisingly quickly. Although the glove may still look normal, it will no longer provide protection.

  • Advice on the particular use for particular types of PPE and the frequency of maintenance and of replacement should be provided by suppliers

Regulation 7 says the employer must prevent or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately control exposure to substances hazardous to health. Substitution is the preferred method of compliance. It is important that when substitutes are used these do not present a further risk to health.

In 2005 the Principles of good practice for the control of exposure to substances hazardous to health were introduced which said that employers must develop suitable and sufficient control measures and ways of maintaining them. These are:

  1. Design and operate processes to minimise emission or spread of hazardous substances.

  2. Take account of all relevant routes of exposure.

  3. Use control measures that are proportionate to the health risks.

  4. Where possible use the most effective control measures that minimise the escape and spread of hazardous substances.

  5. If adequate control cannot be achieved by other means use suitable personal protective equipment along with the other controls.

  6. Check and review regularly to make sure that controls are working.

  7. Inform and train all employees on the hazards and risks and the use of controls.

  8. Make sure that the introduction of controls does not increase the overall risk to health and safety

HSE Occupational Health and Safety Blog https://www.hseblog.com/general-hierarchy-of-control-measures/

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