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When Lack Of Risk Assessment Can Leave You Gasping For Breath.

17th December 2013
You might suppose that a company who are likely to regularly use potentially hazardous chemicals would make “provision” for their workforce to be safely protected when undertaking specific tasks requiring their use.

Unfortunately, this was not the case when a baths and bathroom fittings restoration firm simply instructed an employee to “work in a ventilated area” when using industrial paint and varnish remover to strip a resin coating from a bath while at the premises.

Unfortunately, the 55 year old worker was overcome by the rapid build up of toxic chemical fumes and died on-site. The paint removing agent was a carcinogenic toxic chemical, methylene chloride.

During the subsequent Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, it was revealed that not only was no provision made for the work to be carried out in a “properly planned and supervised” ventilated area but also the company managers themselves were unaware of how the task was needed to be undertaken in a bathroom space.

Admitting to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the restoration company was fined a total of £81,286 including court costs.

Accident claims or injury compensation for incidents involving hazardous chemicals or substances are not uncommon despite strict and comprehensive workplace regulations in place.

Hazard exposure

If exposure to a hazardous substance is not properly controlled it may cause ill health in a number of ways.

• Excessive intake through inhalation
• Absorption through the skin
• Being swallowed
• Acting directly on the body at the point of contact, e.g. the skin.

Some illnesses are also caused by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace (occupational diseases) and may not appear for long period of time after initial exposure. Therefore, it is important to know in advance how to protect the health of people working with hazardous substances and also of other people who may be affected by the work being carried out.

Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs)

WELs are British occupational exposure limits to concentrations of hazardous substances in the air, averaged over a specified period of time. Two time periods are used: long-term (8 hours); and short-term (15 minutes).

Short-term exposure limits (STELs) are set to help prevent effects such as eye irritation, which may occur following exposure for a few minutes.

COSHH

Under Control of Substances Hazardous To Health (COSHH), employers are legally required to control substances that are hazardous to health and prevent / reduce employee exposure by taking the following steps:

• Determine the exact nature of the health hazards.
• Undertake a risk assessment to decide how to prevent harm to health.
• Provide control measures to reduce harm to health and ensuring they are carried out.

In addition, employers must provide :

• Information, instruction and training for employees and others.
• Monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases;
• Planning for emergencies.
• Keep all control measures in good working order.

Click here to find out more about COSHH Risk Assessments at the HSE website