Managing COSHH and Chemical Risks in the Healthcare Sector

Managing COSHH and Chemical Risks in the Healthcare Sector

Published May 10, 2022

2 minute read

Protecting employees from ill health in the workplace is a top priority for all organisations, large and small, public or private. When it comes to managing hazardous substances and chemicals risk, the healthcare sector feels this even more acutely, with the potential to harm patients already vulnerable due to treatments and ill health. This vital responsibility has been sharply underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics (2021) that covers work-related ill health, 13,000 deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, primarily to chemicals or dust. At the same time, ill-health rates shown for ‘human health/social work’ now top the list as the first most ranked industries that are statistically significantly higher than the rate across all industries (2021, ranked one, 2020 ranked three).

Many medicines, medical products and chemicals that are used in healthcare environments to treat people, are extremely hazardous to health individuals i.e. staff. With health concerns already a top priority for the healthcare sector and NHS, there is also a legal duty to provide employees, patients and visitors a safe and healthy environment free from any risk of substances hazardous to health.

This can involve, but is not limited to:

  • The use of non-hazardous substances wherever practicable.
  • Identifying hazardous substances and assessing the risks of use and/or exposure.
  • Identifying and implementing appropriate measures to reduce or remove COSHH hazards.

Hazardous substances and chemicals risk in the healthcare setting can include:

Clinical waste:

  • Soiled bedding, clothing or other fabrics
  • Infectious pathogens that cause disease
  • Medicines that contain hazardous biological agents

Medical substances:

  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Latex
  • Halothane
  • Isoflurane
  • Toluene
  • Xylene
  • Methyl Methacrylate
  • Formaldehyde
  • Radioactivity
  • Carcinogenic or mutagenic substances
  • Legionella
  • Asbestos


  • Bleach-based cleaning products for toilets and surfaces
  • Chlorine-based products used to clean spillages of substances such as blood
  • Oven cleaners
  • Drain-cleaning products that are corrosive
  • Washing detergents
  • General cleaning products which cause contact dermatitis after prolonged use

Maintenance work:

  • Paint, solvents, glue
  • Dust released during maintenance work
  • Water treatment substances
  • Biological hazards
  • Potentially infectious bodily substances

To prevent or reduce exposure to hazardous substances, COSHH sets out eight basic measures that need to be taken:

  1. Assess the risks
  2. Decide what precautions are necessary
  3. Prevent or adequately control exposure
  4. Ensure control measures are used and maintained
  5. Monitor the exposure
  6. Carry out appropriate health surveillance
  7. Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies
  8. Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.

Hazardous substances can cause a wide variety of ill health effects, from mild irritation to corrosive burns and even long-term illnesses such as cancer. COSHH is designed to ensure that exposure to these substances is controlled and does not lead to ill-health. Whether the substance was created on- or off-site, if it poses a risk to somebody’s health it requires a COSHH risk assessment.

Next steps

Eco Online now supports 35 NHS Trusts and hospitals with their COSHH management, including the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Cardiff & Vale NHS Trust and Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

To help you better understand COSHH and engage your workforce, our in-house COSHH experts have outlined key information and tips on hazardous substance management.  You can breathe easy, when you’re COSHH compliant. 

Author EcoOnline

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