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:
- Non-chemical methods such as traps, fly swatters etc.
- Preventing entry of the organism indoors through structures such as doors, windows etc or bring effective items into the home.
- Ensure the problem area is well maintained, clean and dry.
- Modify the temperature in the effected area extreme heat such as stream maybe effective.
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 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.
Before purchasing or using biocides, always consider:
- Is there a problem that needs to be controlled?
- If there is, do you need to use a biocide or is there an alternative available?
- If you do need to use a biocide, do you already have a suitable one that needs using up?
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:
- approval number (eg HSE 3456 or UK-YYYY-XXXX-ZZ where YYYY is year, XXXX is number and ZZ is suffix for product in product family, where this is relevant.). Only biocides approved under the Regulations can carry such a number. The approval number and the name(s) of the active ingredient(s) should be noted in case of an accident or emergency
- what the product is approved for, eg ‘for use only as a wood preservative’. The biocide must not be used for any other purpose
- instructions on who is allowed to use the biocide, for instance whether it is approved for use by:
- an amateur / non-professional user; meaning the biocide is available to the general public
- professional/industrial user; meaning the biocide should only be used by people who have to use biocides as part of their work, who have received appropriate training to enable them to do this safely
- whether any protective clothing or equipment needs to be worn when using the biocide
- how to use the biocide without harming yourself, other people or animals
- whether access to treated areas needs to be restricted
- how to use the biocide without harm to the environment or wildlife (eg fish, bats and bees)
- how to apply the biocide effectively
- how to disposal of the product or empty container
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.
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.
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.