Work-related Ill Health in the Spotlight


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted why workplace safety should be your top priority

2020 has been a year like no other, and the repercussions of COVID-19 on UK workplaces will be felt for decades to come.  Workplaces of all sizes, across all industries have had to quickly adapt to a ‘new normal’ and focus heavily on keeping employees safe in the workplace. The UK government, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other regulatory bodies have outlined strict guidelines and regulations to help businesses provide COVID-19 secure workplaces.

COVID-19 is a biological agent

This Coronavirus is classified as a biological agent, and like other biological materials such as bacteria and even blood, it is risk assessable under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations. Moving into 2021, understanding the fundamentals of hazardous substance management and the COSHH regulations, is imperative to providing a safe workplace for employees.

COSHH is the primary set of regulations in the UK that governs the use and control of hazardous substances in the workplace. The regulations cover a wide range of substances including; purchased hazardous materials, substances that form naturally from everyday workplace activities or those that form as a result of workplace processes. The most common workplace substances that require a COSHH risk assessment, are items such as cleaning products, oils, paints, dusts and fumes.

A lot of substances, especially vapours and fumes, can be colourless and may not even smell. This means that people are often unaware that they are exposed to such substances, or that they are putting themselves and others around them at risk. The implications are not always evdient until a few weeks, months or even years after exposure, and can lead to serious illnesses that have a long-lasting impact later in peoples lives.

There’s a common misconception that ill health-related hazards are not as severe as traditional, obvious workplace hazards such as heavy machinery and physical injuries, but this is simply not the case. Occupational ill-health is responsible for over 12,000 UK deaths every year, and in 2019/20 alone, 1.6 million new cases were reported by the HSE, in comparison to 2019/20 where 693,000 injuries were reported. In recent years, there has been a steady increase in new cases of ill health, however, with the emergence of COVID-19, the number of new cases in 2020 increased significantly. It’s estimated that this figure is likely to increase even more over the next few years.

The basics of COSHH compliance

The COSHH regulations are complex and most businesses do not have the time, resources or knowledge to manage them in-house. Every business owner regardless of their company size, should have basic knowledge of COSHH. As a minimum, business owners or those responsible for health and safety should know; what the COSHH regulations are, the importance of COSHH and hazardous substance management, which substances are covered under the regulations and how to write and interpret a COSHH risk assessment. Companies should remember that compliance with these regulations is not a choice, or a nice to have, it is a legal requirement designed to prevent long lasting ill-health in the UK workforce.

To help understand the basics, Alcumus Sypol has produced an easy-to-read eBook on the fundamentals of COSHH and hazardous substance management. Sypol employs a team of trained and qualified COSHH scientists who have created this eBook to help simplify COSHH and explain how to manage it practically in the workplace.  Read more


Mike Harris

Head of Customer Success

Alcumus Sypol