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Toolbox Talk 004

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)


Every year thousands of employees use hazardous substances across many different job roles and industry sectors.

From cleaners using bleach, to technicians using engine oil, almost all of us use hazardous substances in our day-to-day work.

What does COSHH stand for? It stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. This is the Regulation released in 2002 which places a duty on employers to protect employees and other persons from exposure to hazardous substances used at work by way of writing a risk assessment, controlling exposure, health surveillance and incident planning.


  • There are 9 COSHH symbols (pictured above) a hazardous substance will have any one or a combination of these symbols on the packaging.

  • The symbols are; Explosives, Flammable, Oxidising, Gases under pressure, Toxic, Corrosive, Health hazards, Serious health hazards & Dangerous to the environment.

  • Information on these substances including First aid, Fire precautions and spillage can be found in Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). All COSHH items must have a MSDS. These used to have to be printed and kept on site in folders and updated every time they were reviewed. Now, with the internet available at most workplaces, MSDS can be held electronically and printed when required. They are extremely helpful if an employee needs to go to the hospital with an injury involving a hazardous substance, as this will aid the medical teams with how to treat the injury.

  • Flammable substances should be stored in purpose-built flammable cabinets that are designed specifically to protect the flammables stored inside. Of course, this only works if the cabinets are kept closed. (This also applies to paint mixing room doors!).

  • Employers (and self-employed) must introduce control measures to protect everyone who could be exposed to hazardous substances in the workplace.

  • The best control measure is elimination, if something that is not hazardous can be used, it should. The next is substitution or using something less harmful.

  • We can use introduce engineering controls such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE is a last resort as this only protects the user wearing it and possibly not others in the environment.

  • Employers are not the only ones with duties to protect from COSHH. All employees have a duty to protect themselves and others from exposure to hazardous substances.

  • Read labels and packaging before using any substances at work and follow these instructions.

  • Always tell your supervisor if you are unsure how to use any substance at work.


  1. What does COSHH stand for?

  2. If you are unsure about using any substance at work, what must you do?


A COSHH assessment should be carried out for all hazardous substances used or created which are used in your work activities and control measures must be followed.

These simple tips can help you in your toolbox talk delivery:

  1. Practice makes perfect. Yes, it's a cliché - but it's true...

  2. Stay on topic. Try not to get side-tracked by other subjects or topics...

  3. Pace yourself...

  4. Keep it simple...

  5. Present positively...

  6. Engage and involve...

  7. Speak then listen...

  8. Check everyone understands and record everyone involved to keep record of training.

We at KVF really believe that Toolbox Talks are ideal for raising awareness.

Please remember, task specific training should take place only once the basics of health and safety training have been issued to your teams. To get more information on our e-learning platform Intuity Training, email:

Look out for our monthly blogs to let you know which subject we are covering each month and if there is anything specifically you want to see included, let us know at

Thank you,

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