This page is primarily for employers and fumigators/fumigation technicians (including the self-employed) to help them comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) when carrying out fumigation activities, both traditional pest control (invertebrate fumigation) and within the laboratory and biosecurity sectors. It will also be useful to their safety representatives.
What is fumigation?
Fumigation is a method of pest control using special gasses (fumigants) to kill pests or undesirable organisms. Fumigation can take place in a variety of places, including in:
- purpose-built fumigation or sterilisation chambers
- residential/work buildings and
- ships/transport containers
Different circumstances will determine the type of fumigant used, including the:
- target pest or organism
- goods being fumigated or their location
- availability of fumigants and
- temperature of the environment in which fumigation occurs
Why are fumigants hazardous?
Fumigants act as a poison on pests when they are breathed in or cause suffocation - in the case of organisms they have a lethal effect on the organisms surface.
This means fumigation is a dangerous process with potentially harmful or fatal consequences for those exposed to fumigants, if it is not used correctly and safely.
What is COSHH?
COSHH is a short name for The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and applies to the use of substances that are hazardous to health.
COSHH helps employers control the risks from hazardous substance by providing a framework underpinned by a risk assessment. Information supplied with fumigants provides the starting point for the risk assessment and results in a set of procedures to follow during fumigation.
Additional information on COSHH, including an assessment tool, is available.
What training do fumigators need?
Fumigators must be competent and properly trained, particularly on:
- the safe use and disposal of fumigants
- the safety precautions and
- what to do in the event of an emergency (including being able to use first aid)
More information on control measures appropriate to specific environments can be found in Fumigation: Health and safety guidance for employers and technicians carrying out fumigation operations (HSG251).
How do I know if a fumigator is competent?
From 26 November 2015, professional users of pesticides products need to hold a specified certificate of competence currently known as a 'certificate of competence'.
The Pesticides site provides further information.
What do I need to know about first aid when using fumigants?
In case of a medical emergency following exposure to a chemical, the public should contact NHS 111/NHS 24.
When fumigants are being used professionally, a suitable and sufficient first aid needs assessment must be in place. Employers must ensure that an appropriate number of fumigators are competent to act as first aiders and have the necessary equipment available, such as oxygen and appropriate manual resuscitators (a bag and mask), in an emergency.
HSE's first-aid web pages provide further advice on first aid.
Apart from COSHH, what other legislation applies to fumigants?
Apart from COSHH, several different pieces of legislation apply to fumigants. This includes:
- The Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) which covers a range of products placed onto the market including disinfectants, pest control products and preservatives
- The Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR) which is a UK national scheme, covering products which contain active substances that are not yet regulated under the Biocidal Products Regulations
- The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) which is a European regulation and applies to substances manufactured or imported into the EU in quantities of one tonne or more per year. Almost every business in the UK will have a duty under REACH as a manufacturer, importer, distributor, supplier or user
HSE's pesticides website gives more details.
Can I use methyl bromide?
Methyl bromide is banned as a pesticide/fumigant within the EU because of its harmful effects, both on human health and the environment.
However, countries outside the EU may still use it. So, people who work with cargos which arrive into the UK from outside the EU may come across products which have been fumigated using methyl bromide. For this reason, they will need to be aware of the health effects associated with it.