Moving towards safer alternatives

COSHH Essentials

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1. Elaborated by

UK Health and Safety Executive

2. Description

COSHH Essentials is an assessment method developed by the UK Health and Safety Executive to help firms comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).

The method is used to determine the appropriate control measures for a given task and not specifically to assess risk levels. However, it can be used to compare alternatives by determining hazard levels for different substances and products.

The method implements four hazard levels that depend on the intrinsic hazard, potential environmental exposure and amount of substance used.

Intrinsic hazard is expressed in 5 categories or levels (A, B, C, and D & E); depending on the R phrases on the products label and safety data sheet (see table 1). Hazards in terms of skin and external mucous membrane are also considered. Potential exposure is classified according to volatility of liquids and tendency to form dust in the case of solids. Using these three pieces of information, the expected risk level is established according to hazard groups, environmental tendency and amount of substance used.

Risk levels for COSHH Essentials (click to enlarge)

3. Reliability

The main sources of information for this method are Chemical Safety Data Sheets. Several studies conducted in Europe (read more) have shown important shortcomings of these sheets, especially regarding classification. It is recommendable to double-check R phrases assigned to products and chemicals using additional sources as the European Chemical Substances Information System (ESIS) database. The implementation of the new European Regulation on Chemicals (REACH) must expedite the classification of more substances in the next years.

4. Applicability

Applicability is restricted to single cases of substitution of one product by another. It is not possible to compare products with alternative processes or technologies. The most important advantage of this method is that is very easy to handle by non-professional users and facilitates a quick assessment on possible substitutes and alternatives. It is applicable only to chemical hazards and risks.

5. User friendliness

The method is easy to use by non-professional users and does not require specific training if SDS are available. This method is mostly aimed at SME’s and non-specialized users.

6. Limitations

Since the method is based on R phrases, it  covers 7000 chemicals classified with such phrases, included in Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 CLP. However,  once the CLP inventory is published at the ECHA website, the classification of all substances placed on the EU market will be available independent of their registration status. Estimates can also be drawn using the description of hazards associated with R phrases if there is an additional source of information on the assessed risks. For these estimations a higher level of expertise would be recommended.

It does not take into account eco-toxicological properties, but only deals with risks to health.

The method is not suitable for policy decisions or use by chemical formulators or article manufacturers as it takes in account the exposure conditions of workplaces.

7. Availability

Free access to online format is available. The full method can be purchased from HSE. An abbreviated version useful for preliminary comparisons has been published in the practical guidelines for risk assessment of the European Commission (read more).

8. Links

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Restricted and priority substances database» link
Case story database » link

External substitution websites and databases
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