Hazardous substances at work - HSE review

06 March 2018

Article: 52/904

Three domestic regulations set out employers’ responsibilities in Great Britain to protect the health and safety of their workforce from exposure to hazardous substances. These are: The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH); The Control of Lead at Work Regulations (CLAW); and The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) undertook an evidence gathering exercise to review these regulations to explore how risk management of hazardous substances at work could be simplified whilst maintaining standards of protection.

Following this, the HSE has published two reports:

  • Research Report RR1124 analyses the responses to an on-line survey about dutyholders, employees’ and employers’ experiences of COSHH, CLAW and DSEAR. The research found that the regulations provide a useful framework for determining organisational policies and processes to manage the risks from hazardous substances but this could be simplified and supported by additional guidance.
  • Research Report RR1125 details the findings from a series of focus groups which explored operational staff’s, dutyholders and consultants’ perceptions and experiences of COSHH, CLAW and DSEAR. Overall the regulations are seen as relevant, required, fit for purpose, and supportive of the occupational safety and health (OSH) of employees. Any changes to regulations should include guidance to ensure dutyholders understand how they should comply with the regulations.

Survey respondents suggested that to improve compliance dutyholders and managers responsible for health and safety needed to fully understand their responsibilities set out in the regulations, especially for DSEAR and CLAW. External consultants/advisers on health and safety matters considered that organisations need to be aware that DSEAR is not covered by COSHH. Focus groups indicated that experience and knowledge of the workplace environment and processes were crucial to managing risk well; conversely, the absence of this experience and knowledge were factors that contributed to poor risk management. Any changes to the regulations through simplification or merging would require having in place appropriate guidance to ensure that dutyholders understand what they are required to do to comply with the regulations.