This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

Social media

Javascript is required to use HSE website social media functionality.

Legal requirements

This section provides a summary of employers’ and employees’ key responsibilities for ensuring the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Further details can be obtained from publications listed in the reference section.

Employees’ health, safety and welfare at work are protected by law. This means that employers have a duty under the law to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:

Employees have a duty to co-operate with their employer by using the safe systems of work correctly.

Definitions of legal terms

Substances hazardous to health

This term has a legal meaning within the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. In summary, it covers substances or preparations carrying the very toxic, toxic, harmful, corrosive or irritant symbol; substances and products with occupational exposure limits known as workplace exposure limits (WELs); biological agents, dusts of any kind that have a concentration in air equal to or greater than 10 mg/m3 (inhalable) and 4 mg/m3 (respirable); and substances whose chemical or toxic properties and the way they are used or produced create a risk to health (eg ‘wet work’).

Suitable and sufficient

The measures taken are appropriate to the risk or risks involved and it is reasonably practicable for prevention or adequate control of the risk or risks involved without increasing the overall risks.

As low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)

This involves weighing a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it.

Adequate control

Control measures, including PPE and welfare facilities, can be considered adequate if they can provide a level of protection required to reduce the exposure to comply with the law.

Employers’ general duties

In general, the duties of employers include:

In particular, the employer must:

Employees’ duties

Employees have legal duties under the law. They include:

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

An employer must not carry out any work, which can expose employees, by any route (skin, inhalation or ingestion), to substances hazardous to health, unless the employer has:

Prevention or control of exposure

The risk assessment must consider whether it is reasonably practicable to prevent skin exposure. If prevention is not reasonably practicable, the assessment should identify how to ensure adequate control of skin exposure. The COSHH Regulations are 'goal setting' and recognise that risk cannot always be eliminated. The aim is therefore to reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous substances to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable.

Skin exposure risk assessment

A risk assessment should take account of the following:

Recording a risk assessment

Where there are five or more employees, the employer must record the findings of:

Reviewing a risk assessment

The employer must review the assessment if:

COSHH hierarchy of control

Regulation 7 of COSHH states that an employer’s overriding duty is to prevent employees being exposed to substances hazardous to health. Where this is not reasonably practical, employers must achieve adequate control of exposure. To achieve adequate control the hierarchy listed below in order of priority, must be applied. Most work situations will require several levels of the hierarchy to be used to adequately control the risks associated with skin exposure.

Adequate control of dermal exposure

Where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent dermal exposure to chemicals, the employer must consider and apply, as appropriate for the circumstances of the work, the ‘principles of good control practice’. To achieve adequate control of skin exposure this includes all of the following:

COSHH requires employers to monitor the effectiveness of their controls and in some situations to carry out monitoring and/or health surveillance.

Dermal exposure monitoring

Before carrying out a dermal exposure monitoring exercise, it is important to establish a clear purpose, and to work out how you will assess the significance of the results and what you will do with them.

The decision to carry out dermal exposure monitoring should be informed by:

Health surveillance

As part of the risk assessment employers should also find out whether health surveillance is required. Health surveillance is for the protection of individuals, to identify as early as possible any indications of disease or adverse changes related to exposure, so that steps can be taken to treat their condition and to advise them about the future. It may also provide early warning of lapses in control and indicate the need for a reassessment of the risk.

Because predictive tests are never likely to be totally reliable, and because certain known toxic agents still need to be used, dermatological health surveillance must never be regarded as reducing the need for control of exposure and effective decontamination after exposure.

When is health surveillance required?

This is required when:

Situations where health surveillance is appropriate

The table below gives just a few examples of where health surveillance is appropriate. Skin inspection (SI) refers to carrying out health surveillance for ‘local effects’ following skin exposure to hazardous substances, i.e. straightforward visual checks of employees’ skin. Medical surveillance (MS) typically refers to health surveillance for ‘systemic effects’.

For further information on whether SI /MI is appropriate, the first thing to do is to look at HSE guidance relevant to your business. You can find information on this in HSE’s more detailed guidance on health surveillance.

Type of substance or process Typical HS procedure
Substances known to cause severe dermatitis Skin inspection (SI) by a responsible person
Substances known to cause skin sensitisation SI. In some cases, medical surveillance (MS)
Substances known to cause de-pigmentation SI
Substances known to cause oil acne SI
Substance which may cause skin cancer MS
Substances that can be taken up via skin Biological monitoring and biological effect monitoring.
Manufacture, production, reclamation, storage, discharge, transport, use or polymerisation of vinyl chloride monomer. MS

Competent persons

Regulation 12 of COSHH requires that people carrying out assessment, evaluation and control of risks arising from exposure to substances hazardous to health should have adequate knowledge.

If an employer delegates the work, the person or people that the work is delegated to should have adequate knowledge. If this work is delegated to an employee, then suitable training to gain the knowledge should be encouraged.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) is the professional body in the UK widely recognised for its occupational hygiene qualifications.  Where a degree of formal training is required, the BOHS has devised a module on the control of dermal exposure at work; P108.  Modules are run by different organisations across the country. A list of dates, venues and the names of the organisations which have organised courses is available from the BOHS.

For more complex situations expert advice may be appropriate. HSE does not define or approve standards of competence, but those seeking expert advice may wish to consult a professional occupational hygienist. The British Occupational Hygiene society (BOHS) maintains a register of competent practitioners.

Updated 2012-12-04