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:

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, so far as is reasonably practicable;

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.

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.

More detailed information can be found on our health surveillance for skin diseases page.

Competent persons

Regulation 12 of COSHH requires that people carrying out assessment, evaluation, monitoring, health surveillance and advising on 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 is necessary.

Updated 2021-07-29