HSE targets sensitisers and carcinogens

When completing their workplace inspections, the HSE are prioritising two particular categories of hazardous substances: carcinogens and sensitisers.  If you use or create these hazardous substances as part of your work activities then consider the following seven key actions, you will be expected to have taken.

  1. Show you have identified all carcinogens and sensitisers
  2. Check you have included the materials or substances produced during processing (e.g. dusts as well as those that come in a pack, can or drum).
  3. Ensure your risk assessment is up-to-date.  For these substances, the risk assessments are often referred to as COSHH Assessments.
  4. Describe what actions you are taking to minimise the risk – eliminate these materials by replacing them with safer alternatives.  Engineer the controls such as ventilation and dust suppression and providing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  5. Set out how you ensure these controls work in practice, for example, how you check the ventilation is working properly and that PPE remains effective and is worn when needed.
  6. Provide information and training relating to the hazards and health effects, the use of the control measures and any specialist equipment.
  7. Provide the appropriate health surveillance that is recommended (e.g. lung function testing for employees using spray isocyanate-based paints).

What is the risk?

Carcinogens are substances or materials such as mineral oils and wood dusts that have the potential to cause cancer.  Uncontrolled exposure can trigger serious harm to health.

Sensitisers (some resins, paints, bonding agents) are substances or materials that can trigger and allergic reaction.  Once people become sensitised, even minute quantities of the substance can set off a serious adverse reaction.  For example, painful rash and inflammation (skin sensitisers) or asthma-like symptoms of difficult breathing (respiratory sensitisers) Either way these effects can be so serious the persons is prevented from working with the material in the short term, but may be unable to work with them again.

A recent prosecution of a rubber sealant manufacturer resulted in the admission of failure to manage skin sensitisation risks and as a result, a £40,000 fine.