COSHH Guide: Definition, assessment, symbols and training

COSHH in a Food Environment

Confused about COSHH? Take a look at our break down of its definition, symbols and training available. 



COSHH Meaning

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. These regulations require employers to control health hazards such as chemicals, gases or corrosive liquids often found in the workplace, for example as ingredients of strong cleaning products.



So what does the legislation actually demand of employers? By law, businesses should be doing the following:

  • Risk assessments: Before employees or members of the public are possibly exposed to hazardous substances, the employer must carry out a full risk assessment and take steps to comply with regulations.

  • Prevention/control of exposure: During the risk assessment employers must endeavour to prevent exposure to substances hazardous to health or, if this is pragmatically not possible, control exposure. Actions to prevent exposure could include swapping hazardous substances out with a safe alternative. Controls an employer can put in place could include enclosing areas, increasing ventilation and establishing written workflows to ensure safe handling. Note that personal protective equipment, such as dust masks, can only be applied as a control when other measures cannot control exposure to a satisfactory level.


  • Control measures: Employers should make sure all equipment and controls are applied correctly. It is the employee's responsibility to use these measures correctly and to report any equipment that is not functioning properly.

  • Maintenance and testing of control measures: Employers must review and maintain these to keep them in good working order.

  • Monitoring exposure: It is mandatory to monitor exposure to particular substances, such as vinyl chloride monomer. Other areas requiring workplace monitoring will be identified in the risk assessment, and should be monitored at regular intervals.

  • Exposure monitoring: Utilising equipment that can record an employee’s exposure to hazardous substances - often in the form of a sampling pumps worn by the employee.

  • Health surveillance: In circumstances where a particular health risk might be related to exposure, employers are required to carry out health surveillance. There are also specific occupations where exposure to particular substances means health surveillance is mandatory.

  • Training and information: The act demands that all employees prone to exposure receive appropriate instruction, information and training (see training chapter).

  • Incidents and emergencies: Employers must be prepared in the event of an accident caused by a hazardous substance. This includes preparing procedures, informing the emergency services about any risks and installing alarms.




COSHH Employee’s Responsibilities


Hand washing


Whilst most COSHH legislation outlines the employer’s responsibility, compliance in the day-to-day workplace can only be achieved when employees fulfill five duties:

  1. Follow procedures set out by the employer to minimise risk.

  2. Use control measures properly.

  3. Report defective equipment and store it correctly.

  4. Attend medical examinations and provide information about their health.

  5. Report any incidents that could cause increased exposure to hazardous substances.


COSHH Assessment

Carrying out an effective COSHH risk assessment is the crucial first step to meeting compliance for any employer. In brief, the steps for an assessment are as follows:

  1. Identify hazards

  2. Establish who is at risk, why and how they could be harmed

  3. Assess the risks you’ve found and decide what precautions to take

  4. Put control measures in place where exposure to hazardous substances cannot be prevented.



For more information on executing an assessment take a look at the video below:


COSHH Symbols

Possible risks from harmful substances are communicated through a standardised set of symbols. It’s vital for both employers and their workforce to be familiar with these to keep risks controlled.

Harmful to the environment

Harmful to the environment COSHH symbol

Can damage or pollute the environment. May also cause aquatic toxicity.


Highly flammable

Highly flammable COSHH symbol

Can catch fire easily.



Explosive COSHH symbol

May explode if coming into contact with a flame, or due to friction or shock.



Oxidising COSHH symbol

Can cause or intensify fire and explosion.



Toxic COSHH symbol

Acutely toxic and possibly fatal if in contact with skin, inhaled or ingested.



Corrosive COSHH symbol

Can cause severe skin burn and eye damage. Can also damage surfaces.



Harmful COSHH symbol

May cause harm in some way, for example through toxicity, skin, eye or respiratory irritation.


Gas under pressure

Gas under pressure COSHH symbol

May explode when heated, causing burns or injuries.


Longer term health hazards

Longer term health hazards COSHH symbol

For example, affecting fertility or unborn children, mutations, causing allergies, asthma or breathing difficulties, toxic to specific organs.


We’ve created an A4 COSHH symbols poster that can easily be displayed in the workplace, and remind workers of each symbol's implications. Download it here or click the preview below.


COSHH Training

A key part of the legislation states that employers are responsible for ensuring any staff subject to exposure from harmful substances must receive suitable training and instruction in COSHH. Whilst face-to-face learning with a hired trainer can be a viable way to do this, there are cost and time implications as staff are required to be off-site for this. Many business find online training as an effective means of meeting compliance standards. Modules can be completed by the employee from anywhere with an internet connection, and can undertake the course at their own pace.

How to get a COSHH Certificate

With most online courses, there will be learning material that employees work through module-by-module. At the end of the course there is a short assessment to test the learner’s knowledge - they will then receive a printable certificate, which provides the employer with documented proof of training.




Online COSHH Courses

Appetite Learning offer two courses - one provides an overview of COSHH in general and one looks at the regulations specifically in the context of the food industry.


An Overview of COSHH

The course introduces employees to COSHH and outlines what their obligations are under the regulation. It also allows employers to comply with regulations by providing training to staff. In brief, the course helps them to understand:

  • The benefits of COSHH and it’s influence

  • The consequences of exposure to hazardous substances on human health

  • Practices to ensure effective compliance with the regulations.

There is an assessment at the end of the course which, on passing, will enable learners to download and print their certificate. This course is certified by CPD.


COSHH Overview iPad  COSHH Overview iPhone



The Overview of COSHH course takes approximately one hour, although learners can complete the course at their own pace.


The Overview of COSHH course costs £15 + VAT. However, discounts are available for bulk orders.

COSHH in a Food Environment

This course examines COSHH in slightly more detail and puts the regulations in the context of the food and drink sector, making it ideal for anyone working in this environment. In brief the course helps learners understand:

  • What The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations stand for

  • Good and bad practice

  • Why COSHH is so critical

  • How to use chemicals safely

  • The employer and employee’s obligations as part of the act

  • What factors fall within the remit of the act

  • Control measures and risk assessments

  • Why it’s important to use approved chemicals

There is an assessment at the end of the course. On passing this, learners will be able to download and print their certificate and employers will have proof of training to demonstrate compliance.


COSHH in a Food Environment iPhone  COSHH in a Food Environment iPad



The COSHH in a Food Environment course takes approximately 1-2 hours to complete, although learners are welcome to undertake the course at their own pace.


This course costs £20 + VAT. However, if you need multiple courses, it is worth calling Appetite Learning directly on 01293 610473, as we offer large discounts for bulk orders.


Further resources

HSE - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health

OSHCR - Guide

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