CoSHH - Emergency Services

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Published: 16th November 2010
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Workers' health is compromised if they are exposed to chemicals and other substances at their place of work. They are susceptible to asthma, dermatitis and cancer.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) law states that employers must have controls in place to limit exposure to substances which may harm health.

So what about those employees whose main role involves emergency working, for example, paramedics, crime scene investigators, fire-fighters etc? Workers in these positions are routinely exposed to the risks relating to hazardous substances in the emergency setting. However, they are not exempt from CoSHH law and must still comply with it.

Safety should always be paramount regardless of the emergency. When planning work that involves using hazardous materials, there are some guidelines to consider in preventing or reducing worker's exposure:

1)Find out what the hazards are;

2)Find out what precautions are required to prevent ill health (risk assessment);

3)Provide control measures and ensure that they are used and maintained;

4)Provide staff with information, instruction and training;

5)Provide monitoring and health surveillance when appropriate

6)Set an emergency plan in place

With regard to crime scene investigators/technicians, they are regularly exposed to both bio-hazards and chemical hazards. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and safety goggles can protect against exposure to chemicals found in or near the crime scene. Chemical contamination is not just limited to the skin and eyes. Chemical inhalation is also a concern at the scene of crime. As such, it is important that workers protect their lungs and wear contamination suits. It is essential that they have training in the use of respirators.

Another crime scene CoSHH hazard is the use of aluminium powder which is used to enhance latent fingerprints. A crime scene investigator will use the powder frequently at a large number of scenes over a long period of time and the risk is that the powder disperses into the air when being used. A CoSHH risk assessment will help to analyse the risks to employees in these circumstances.

Paramedics and ambulance crew are exposed regularly to sharps and the danger of blood-borne viruses. BBVs are usually transmitted through accidental contamination from needles or broken glass. It is a stipulation of CoSHH law that employers examine the risk of infection for workers and those who may be affected by their work. Once the risk has been identified, sufficient controls need to be enforced to protect workers' health. There should be a procedure for example, to correctly store and collect needles as well as how to dispose of waste properly.

CoSHH hazards arising within a fire and rescue station can come from something as simple as the metal polish used to clean a sliding firepole. Cleaning products can be corrosive and cause skin burns and eye damage. Other hazardous substances which need examining include hand soaps, vehicle screenwash and de icer. As such, all processes involving the use of chemicals must be accompanied by a completed CoSHH risk assessment.

If you have any concerns with regard to employee health risks and CoSHH speak with your Safety, Health and Environment Officer.


Dale Allen delivers CoSHH compliance as one of the UK's leading compliance authorities. Find out more about how you can use his online COSHH365 CoSHH assessment tool to produce compliant CoSHH assessments with the benefits of a managed Safety Data Sheet library.

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