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What makes a good COSHH assessment

That’s to say, a good COSHH Risk Assessment. It’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that a COSHH Assessment is in fact a Risk Assessment, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that some people could be talking about the Materials Safety Data Sheet ( MSDS). Anyway, what would it look like?

Well, that’s the first point, because there are so many different kinds that it’s just not possible to go by appearances, except to say that bigger does not mean better.

Like any Risk Assessment, for manual handling for example, it needs to be done by a person, or persons, who are competent to do it. We need to have confidence in their ability to identify and quantify the risk posed by exposure to chemical hazards, to select or design appropriate control measures or systems, and then to record and communicate their findings to those who need to know.

It’s often the last of these 3 tasks that is the weakest link in the process.

COSHH Assessments can often be weakened by containing a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful text ( waffle), such as legislation, or toxicology data, which makes them hard work to read. Much of this comes straight off the MSDS, suggesting that the assessment lacks focus.

And then of course, they may contain too many cross-references to other documents or information that may not be readily available, e.g. emergency procedures, or WELs ( which we may have no means of interpreting ). And most often perhaps, they may be missing vital pieces of information such as the requirements for safe storage and disposal. It’s important make sure the really vital stuff is easy to find, and this should be reflected in the style of the pro-forma used.

It’s worth remembering that the ‘end users’, while possibly being the most important audience for the COSHH Assessment, are not the only ones. Risk Assessors who follow the original assessor, or who review the assessment, need to have some insight into the original thinking. This is why some indication that the COSHH Hierarchy of Control has been considered can be very useful. Circumstances change, and while previously there may have been no viable substitute ( and so its use was not pursued ), maybe now there is.

Something that can be rather interesting to do is to go over your own, or somebody else’s, COSHH Risk Assessment with a highlighter pen and mark up the really important things. Then ask yourself what’s missing, and what’s the rest of it doing there anyway?

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