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Using biocides

Biocides can be used by people in the course of their job or business, or by members of the public in their homes.

As biocides are intended to control a wide variety of harmful or unwanted organisms, it is important that there are safeguards to ensure these products can be used without causing harm to people, the environment or wildlife.

Everyone who uses biocides is responsible for ensuring that they use them correctly and effectively.

Non-biocidal methods of control

There are many other ways to manage harmful organisms rather than using biocides depending on the problem, these include:

General public users

Biocides that can be used in the home by the general public are approved for ‘amateur’ use. This means that the person using the product does not need specific training. However, the information and instructions found on the product label must be followed so that the biocide can be used safely and effectively. You must always make sure that you read and understand the label before you use the product, and that you follow the label instructions carefully.

Many other biocides are approved for much larger commercial / industrial uses. These ‘professional’ products must, by law, only be used by those who have had the appropriate information, instruction and training. Professional biocidal products should never be used by the general public.

Professional/Industrial users

Professional / industrial users are those people using biocides in the course of their job or business, who have received appropriate information, instruction and training in their use.

The type of training required should cover issues such as the law, correct use of biocides and how to carry out a risk assessment under the Control of Substance Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). Those using biocides have a duty to properly assess each planned usage, considering the options for treatment and the potential risks involved. The product should then be able to be used in a way which reduces any risks from its use.

There are numerous courses in the UK on different aspects of biocide use, run by private consultants/firms, trade associations and training bodies. HSE is not able to recommend any specific training courses.

Best practice

Before purchasing or using biocides, always consider:

If you have to buy a biocide product, try to ensure you only buy what you need.

Is the product approved?

It is important to find out if the product is approved before using it. Details of approved products can be found in our databases. Guidance on checking whether a product is approved can be found in our FAQs.

What information will there be on the label?

The label will contain information and instructions that must be followed so the biocide is able to be used safely and effectively. You must always make sure that you read and understand the label before using the product, following the label instructions carefully.

The label should contain the following:

Provided that the instructions are followed correctly, we would not expect there to be any health problems. However, if you feel ill after using a biocide, you should seek medical advice and then report it to the appropriate authorities.

Storing

Biocides should always be stored in their original containers. This is for safety reasons but is also a legal requirement.

After you have used a biocide, make sure the packaging is tightly closed or sealed to avoid spillage. Biocides should be stored in a safe place, out of reach of children and pets.

HSE has produced guidance on suitable standards for storing pesticides and the general principles applying to the storage of biocides, see: Guidance on storing pesticides for farmers and other professional users.

Disposal

If you use biocides, it is your responsibility to ensure that any biocidal waste is disposed of properly. Check the label for advice on disposal of the product or empty container. If you are not sure how to dispose of biocidal waste, contact the waste disposal department of your local authority for advice.

Professional users will need to identify safe methods for disposing of surplus biocides and the empty container, which may involve contacting a specialist waste contractor.

Updated 2014-01-17