COSHH in agriculture

What you need to do...

The law requires that employers assess and control the risks from hazardous substances. The regulations are called COSHH, short for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. The key issues (in this order) are:

What you need to know...

COSHH covers all substances hazardous to health including:

  • substances used directly in work activities, eg cleaning chemicals, disinfectants, fertilisers, many pesticides and veterinary medicines;
  • substances generated during work activities, eg fumes from welding;
  • naturally occurring substances, eg grain dust, poultry dust, silo and slurry pit gases; and
  • biological agents, eg bacteria and fungi.

[back to top]

Eliminating exposure

You should first aim to eliminate exposure to hazardous substances. You might:

  • change the way you work so that the hazardous substance is not needed or generated, eg don't use corrosive silage additives;
  • replace a hazardous substance with a safer alternative;
  • use the hazardous substance in a different form, eg introduce a liquid or wet feed in place of a dusty meal or crumb.

[back to top]

Controlling exposure

If you have to use the hazardous substance or you can't avoid exposure to a natural product such as dust from grain or poultry, then you must put in place appropriate control measures. These include, in order of priority, one or more of the following:

  • ways of working that minimise the amount of substance used or produced;
  • engineering controls, eg enclosing the process or fitting local exhaust ventilation to remove toxic fume or dust at source;
  • minimising how long people are exposed, or how many are exposed;
  • good housekeeping to minimise accidental contact;
  • personal protective equipment, such as dust masks, respirators and gloves, but only as a last resort and never as a replacement for other measures;
  • good washing facilities to aid high standards of personal hygiene;
  • training in the use of engineering controls, good practice, and protective equipment.

Remember that engineering controls protect both the operator and other people in the workplace, while personal protective equipment only protects the wearer.

COSHH essentials for farmers gives advice on control measures for a number of common agricultural activities.

[back to top]

Monitoring health

Despite all your efforts to control their exposure to hazardous substances, some workers may still experience symptoms of ill health, often later in life. You may need health surveillance to monitor and detect early signs of ill health especially when workers are exposed to:

  • dusts that may cause asthma or other long-term lung disease;
  • substances such as solvents that may cause dermatitis;
  • sheep dips that contain organophosphorus (OP) compounds.

Health surveillance might include:

  • biological or biological effect monitoring, eg blood tests;
  • regular checks by a responsible person, eg a trained supervisor could look at workers' hands for signs of dermatitis;
  • periodical enquiries to check that there are no symptoms of ill health, eg asking questions about breathing difficulties;
  • monitoring the causes of sickness absence, eg if workers are absent from work due to illness, asking whether they or their doctor associated the illness with their work.

Everyone should know about the possible health risks and the need to report symptoms promptly.