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Hazardous substances are substances that, if not properly regulated, can have adverse effects on the health of people who come into contact with them. In workplace scenarios the most common effects of exposure include dermatitis, asthma, and, in cases where cases where there has been prolonged exposure to certain substances, cancer.

Hazardous substances are generally dealt with, health and safety wise, under The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). It is a legal requirement for employers to control their employees' exposure to hazardous substances in accordance with COSHH.

Which substances are considered hazardous?

These substances are found in nearly all types of working environments, even office and shop workers may come into contact with cleaning chemicals which, if not handled correctly, could cause illness. Factories, farms, laboratories, workshops, mines and hospitals are all areas of high-risk.

Hazardous substances can be: generated during work activities (e.g. fumes from soldering and welding); naturally occurring substances (e.g. grain and dust); and biological agents such as bacteria and other micro-organisms.

For example:

  • Substances or mixtures of substances classified as dangerous to health under the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002 (CHIP). These can be identified by their warning label and the supplier must provide safety data sheet for them.
  • Biological agents (bacteria and other micro-organisms), if they are directly connected with the work, such as with farming, sewage treatment, or healthcare, or if the exposure is incidental to the work (e.g. exposure to bacteria from an air-conditioning system that is not properly maintained).
  • Any kind of dust if its average concentration in the air exceeds the levels specified in COSHH.
  • Nanotechnology, which describes a range of technologies and materials which are very small in size. Because nanotechnologies are relatively new, the potential threat they pose to workers who may inhale or ingest them is still not fully understood. Until more evidence has been gathered, it is recommended that employers take the same cautionary approach as they would with other hazardous substances covered by COSHH.
  • Any other substance that creates a risk to health, but which for technical reasons may not be specifically covered by CHIP. This includes: asphyxiants (i.e. gases such as argon and helium, which, while not dangerous in themselves, can endanger life by reducing the amount of oxygen available to breathe), pesticides, vapours, mists, medicines, cosmetics or substances produced in chemical processes.

Not all hazardous substances are dealt with under COSHH. There are some exceptions, and substances such as asbestos and lead are subject to their own regulations – the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 respectively.

Get in contact with experienced personal injury solicitors

Thompsons' compensation solicitors are experienced in investigating and advising on workplace accident claims. We have an excellent success rate – we win over 90% of our personal injury cases – and act on a No Win No Fee basis, so you don't risk incurring any unnecessary legal fees in the event your case is unsuccessful.

If you need advice on making a claim, give our workplace injury lawyers a call on 0800 0891 331 to have a detailed discussion about your circumstances. Our experienced solicitors will help put you on the right track.

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