Information for employers
As an employer you have a responsibility to protect the health of your employees
21.9 million working days are lost due to COPD*
The Top tips page of this site has information on measures you can take to protect your workforce.
However, occupational health needs to be tackled through a partnership approach. Workers, Trade Unions, industry groups and senior management need to be involved to ensure a safe environment is created for all.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, require employers to control exposures to hazardous substances to protect employees' health. Employers must assess the exposure (exposure means taking in chemicals by breathing in, by skin contact or by swallowing) and the risk that this exposure would cause undue health effects.
COSHH requires you to consider the substitution of harmful products with less harmful ones. If this is not possible then you must use adequate control measures.
COSHH requires that all controls be kept in good working order, including;
- Mechanical controls e.g. local exhaust ventilation, protective gloves
- Administrative controls e.g. supervision
- Operator controls e.g. following instructions
For more information on hazardous substances in your workplace see the COSHH Essentials website.
If a substance definitely causes COPD in your workplace, then you will need to consider whether health surveillance is required for compliance with COSHH. This may be the case, for instance, if your employees use cadmium. You should seek the help of a competent advisor.
For a substance where the evidence of a link with COPD is less certain, then HSE would still recommend that you consider health monitoring of your workforce.
Health surveillance, or monitoring would involve an assessment of individuals' fitness for work at the start of employment by means of symptom enquiry and lung function testing. Thereafter employees should be asked about new or worsening respiratory symptoms and have repeat lung function testing at intervals. Information arising from health surveillance and monitoring of individuals, and groups of employees can help you assess whether the control of dust in your workplace is adequate.
Some substances that cause COPD also cause occupational asthma (OA). Any occupation where there is a risk of OA requires regular health surveillance.
* Between 1994-1995, includes smoking related cases