Managing hazardous substances within the workplace
Dangerous substances, in liquid, gas or solid form that pose a risk to workers’ health or safety can be found in nearly all workplaces. According to the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA)1, 15% of workers across the European Union (EU) have to handle dangerous substances as part of their job, and another 15% report breathing in smoke, fumes, powder or dust at work which could be hazardous to their health. This proves that managing hazardous substances is very important.
Some highly dangerous substances, such as asbestos, are now banned or under strict control. However, other harmful substances are still widely used and consequently legislation is in place to ensure that the risks associated with them are properly managed. The Chemical Agents Directive 2 is ‘celebrating’ its 20th anniversary during 2018. In the UK it is implemented as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 and transposition across the EU has been summarised by EU-OSHA3.
In addition, Directive 2004/37/EC4 was specially introduced for carcinogens or mutagens at work and essentially requires that the employer assess and manage the risk of exposure to carcinogens or mutagens and to:-
- limit the quantities of a carcinogen or mutagen at the place of work;
- reduce the number of workers exposed;
- design the work processes to minimise the substance release;
- evacuate carcinogens or mutagens at source, but respect the environment;
- use appropriate measurement procedures (especially for early detection of abnormal exposures from unforeseeable event or accident);
- apply suitable working procedures and methods;
- use individual protection measures if collective protection measures are not enough;
- provide for hygiene measures (regular cleaning);
- inform workers;
- demarcate risk areas and use adequate warning and safety signs (including” no smoking”);
- draw up emergency plans;
- use sealed and clearly and visibly labelled containers for storage, handling, transportation and waste disposal.
Recognising the specific concerns over benzene, a hazardous carcinogenic chemical, the EU has turned to the European Chemicals agency (ECHA) to “review and evaluate the information already available and assess the most recent scientific information”. The review, entitled Proposal in support of occupational exposure limit values for benzene in the workplace was published for public consultation in October 2017 and “opinions” will be published by 26th March 2018. The aim of the review will be to make recommendations to the next (4th) amendment to the directive on carcinogens.