Understanding hazards

When it comes to site safety there are hundreds, if not thousands, of potential hazards and risk limitation processes attributed to heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) work.  These vary from simple things, such as dust creation and the process of clearing it, through to immediate life threatening examples, such as exposure to poisonous substances and how to protect the user and others from it.

To ensure employers and employees are fully aware of all potential hazards, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) needs to be adhered to.  COSHH requires assessments to be made of health risks arising from contact with or use of any materials at work.  Failure to meet the COSHH Regulations can result in a company becoming liable to enforcement action, including prosecution under the regulations or the Health and Safety at Work Act, civil claims and lost productivity for the business.

We immediately think of chemicals when we think of workplace hazards, however, the simplest tasks can pose risks; sweeping up in a really dusty room can make dust airborne, which is then inhaled. That is a COSHH issue.

To help avoid hazards, COSHH sets out a process for dealing with substances we commonly come into contact with, such as adhesives and other chemicals that, if touched, can cause harm, or fumes that can be dangerous, especially at intensive levels. COSHH is designed to ensure that all employees and those around them are best protected from physical things they may do, touch, handle or inhale.

Manufacturers of materials must produce a data sheet informing users about the product, any potential risks in using it, and what protections should be put in place to minimise the risks.

In every case, products need to have a data sheet that can be accessed by the employer and operative to protect themselves and manage any risks and dangers. Further, businesses will need to use these data sheets to produce risk assessments and generally minimise risks.

All things need to go into the risk assessment, for example where you are going to use the product, substance hazards and protection systems to be put in place. Employers and operatives can then use it to create prescribed working practices, known as method statements, e.g. for sweeping the floor, operatives may already know to wear a mask and goggles, but the COSHH risk assessment and method statement might suggest wetting the floor first.

To help simplify and manage this process, HVCA Publications, the publishing division of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA), has recently launched a new version of its already widely regarded COSHH Management System. Now web-based, it provides a HVACR specific reference resource for contractors, engineers, health and safety officers and all those responsible for complying with COSHH. 

The HVCA COSHH Management System is part of a much larger database covering all industries, most of which is not hugely appropriate for our industry. Sypol Environmental Management Ltd, the UK’s leading health, safety and environmental specialist and provider of its own pan industry COSHH database, provides the assessments to the HVCA in consultation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The HVCA COSHH Management System features a fully automated provision of over 400 COSHH assessments and data sheets explaining the risks and solutions for products commonly used in this industry sector. By scaling down the system (making it HVACR specific) in this way, the cost to subscribers is reduced.

Features of the HVCA COSHH Management System include all assessments searchable by product name, supplier and hazard type; automatic data aggregation, ensuring assessments are always up-to-date; email notification of assessment changes; ability to allocate assessments to certain jobs/tenders, and a free assessment request form for less common substances not already covered.

Each ready-to-use risk assessment is provided in a printer-friendly, redistributable format and details hazards associated with the material, control measures to reduce the potential harm when undertaking defined work activities and first aid methods.  The system also includes a clear explanation of the latest COSHH regulations and answers many frequently asked questions associated with adhering to COSHH.

As well as helping companies and individuals meet their moral and legal responsibilities, the COSHH Management System is an essential tool when tendering for valuable contracts and assists users who need to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

By using the COSHH Management System, employers can help ensure their workers remain safe and healthy when carrying out work, and making it readily available will also help to avoid legal action resulting from staff suffering workplace injuries.

COSHH should not be seen as a threatening piece of legislation.  Yes it is law but, more importantly, it is the right thing to do to ensure a safe working environment.

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