About Health & Safety and Hazardous Substances

The HSE state that a hazardous substance is:

“A substance hazardous to health is a substance or preparation (mixture) with the potential to cause harm if they are inhaled, ingested, or come into contact, or are absorbed through the skin.”

Hazardous Substances are used in a great number of jobs and workplaces including agriculture and cleaning to caterers and printers to engineering and welding and they can take many different forms e.g. solids, liquids, gases, fumes and mists.

Exposure to hazardous substances can affect the body in many different ways. Skin contact, inhalation and ingestion can cause short- and long-term health problems and serious illness including cancers, dermatitis and asthma.


Fortunately, Health & Safety understanding and provision has come on in leaps and bounds over the past fifty years or so.

Today the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health is known as The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

The use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is considered to be the last resort. RPE should only be considered when exposure cannot be adequately reduced by other means. So what can employers do to best protect their workforce?


Paint for domestic use has come a long way in the past twenty-five years. Most manufacturers now offer water-based alternatives to the oil-based mainstays of yesteryear, and DIY enthusiasts – along with some self-employed painters and decorators – can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Paints for industry tend to be more potentially toxic, containing an array of chemicals and solvents. In fact some types of industrial paint can produce fumes toxic enough to cause brain damage if applied without a powerful ventilation system. They are also often applied via a spray system, increasing the likelihood of inhalation, and with it respiratory disease.

Painting within a confined space is especially hazardous, and, where unavoidable, employers have a responsibility to:

  • Provide sufficient ventilation
  • Limit work to employees who have received suitable training
  • Ensure safe rescue arrangements are in place

And sometimes it’s not only employees’ health at risk; the greater community can become involved, as was the case in 2012 when a fire at a paint factory in Greater Manchester led to several nearby homes being evacuated due to concerns about poisonous fumes from a cloud of smoke.

Procedures involving intense heat

The fumes emitted by welding and other hot cutting procedures can be from a combination of airborne gasses and microscopic particles, which if inhaled may cause ill health.

These illnesses range from mild irritation of the throat and lungs, through occupational asthma to cancer. In extreme cases, those with weak respiratory health may be forced to look for new employment.

Employers might chose to implement a combination of strategies to minimise the likelihood of health conditions developing. These could include:

  • An optimum set-up, involving the use of the most appropriate shielding glasses
  • The correct safety clothing and helmets


In addition to paint, myriad solvent-based products are used in the workplace. From adhesives to dry cleaning fluids, each raises its own health concerns. These include mild reversible symptoms, such as headaches and drowsiness, to emergencies, such as unconsciousness and even death.

Regular monitoring of solvent vapour exposure is recommended as a duty of care for employees, along with measures such as minimal solvent preparation at workstations, and disposing of used rags in airtight metal containers.

Health and safety training

Addressing the issues that can arise within the area of Health & Safety and hazardous substances makes perfect sense. With approximately 10,000 new cases of occupational respiratory disease reported each year (hse.gov.uk), employers should aim to do all they can to minimise the risks. Investing in proper instruction for staff is the solution.

Find out about Health and Safety Training provided by New Broom Training today.