Dangerous substances in the work place

Mark Foleyin Industry News

Dangerous Substances in the Workplace

By Mark Foley

Hazardous substances at work presenting risks to health and safety, is the focus for the Health and Safety Commission during European Week for Safety and Health, starting October 13th.

Dangerous chemicals, materials, airborne dust and organic matter absorbed into the body can result in serious occupational health problems such as asthma, dermatitis and cancer and can even affect ability to have children.


Costly reviews of active ingredients in pesticides have resulted in many pesticides being banned in Europe. One manufacturer has renamed the product Armillatox, to Armillatox Soap-Based Cleaner, taking it out of pesticide regulations without changes to its formulation which is claimed to be environmentally friendly, attacking moss, fungal disease, vine weevil and more.

As more substances are identified as unsafe and resistance by some pest species builds, concerns warrant careful, ecological management to keep populations down to acceptable levels whilst maintaining economic stability. Controls aimed at particular species tend to be safer than general use pesticides. Manufacturer's instructions are critical to safe application and professional training beneficial to workers and employers.

Pesticides Residue - Risks in Re-use

Although workers adhere to control procedures and the use of Personal Protective Equipment, risk due to residual contamination is still evident. Test samples from protective clothing, spray delivery systems and tractor, found amounts of residue, (especially from herbicides), left behind after washing vehicles and equipment, presenting a potential, longer term, health risk. Generally, workers do not have a regular routine for the type of specialised cleaning required.

The problem occurs with pesticides that are not water soluble; their oily residue remaining for a significant length of time. Organophosphate pesticides were not prominent in the results as, these breakdown and clear more rapidly.

Protective, cotton gloves do prevent direct contamination; however, re-use promotes transfer of residue to their interior. Monitoring continual re-use of gloves has shown that contamination regularly exceeds the acceptable daily intake level (ADI) and can build up to more than 15 times this acceptable measure.

Herbicides, Fertilisers and Toxic Compounds

As with pesticides, some herbicides and fertilisers when used to excess can be damaging to the environment. The use of glyphosate, especially in association with GM crops, is under review as resistance to it becomes more evident. The Drinking Water Inspectorate recommends monitoring its presence in drinking water, as according to the Welsh Water Board, glyphosate content above EU levels has been recorded for the last ten years.

A qualified BASIS adviser or health and safety expert should be consulted regarding appropriate products to use.

Toxic compounds, (acids, oils, fabrics or wastes), should always be disposed of safely and without risk of pollution.

Legal Duties

Over a million companies are covered by specific chemical legislation and suppliers of dangerous chemicals must adhere to Chemicals (Hazard Information & Packaging) for Supply Regulations, (CHIP), to alert people to the nature of the hazard and to help protect users and the environment. CHIP generated information can be used to manage risks as covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, (COSHH) and Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations, (DSEAR).


CHIP is a UK law, (Chemicals (Hazard Information & Packaging) for Supply Regulations), designed to help suppliers and users of dangerous chemicals in the workplace to protect themselves and the environment.

Suppliers must classify, package and label chemicals appropriately and provide Safety Data Sheets to their customers. Labels should alert handlers or users to the nature of the hazard and give brief precautionary advice.

Chemical products and Safety Data Sheets must be received by the customer at the same time.

Safety Data Sheets must hold enough information about the product to ensure its continual safe use, be easy for users to understand the risks involved and according to CHIP should include:

  • Hazards of the chemical
  • Handling and storage
  • Effects on the environment
  • Controlling exposure
  • Protection and equipment.

Information on Safety Data Sheets can be used to manage risks as covered by COSHH and DSEAR.

E-COSHH Essentials

Reduce the risk of exposure to dangerous substances with this FREE online risk assessment facility developed by the Health and Safety Executive.

Simply logon to the web site, www.coshh-essentials.com and enter details from your Safety Data Sheet. The information is automatically analysed and correct solutions identified to provide you with:

  • · summary of the information entered
  • · practical advice on actions to take and legal duties
  • · highlighted other COSHH duties
  • · hypertext links to other relevant web sites

Most workplaces contain dangerous substances and many people are unaware of the potential risks involved when proper control measures are not taken such as safe storage, warning labels and procedures for use, including, the issue and wearing of Personal Protective Equipment.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 require employers to ensure employees and others are protected from exposure to dangerous substances.

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