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COSHH – Managing Safety

COSHH 2014 screenshot

Management of safety protocols in a modern chemistry lab is fraught with problems. The safety officers have to ensure that work flows are kept as simple as possible, whilst ensuring that workers have:

  • Completed any requisite training before undertaking a procedure – and that this training is up-to-date
  • Evaluated any problems that might be attendant on a procedure they are about to undertake
  • Set in place robust measures for when something does go wrong

This is complicated in the Universtiy environment due to the wide range of skill levels that must all be safely managed, from undergraduate student to Post Doctoral level researcher.

Some years ago we developed our first COSHH (‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’ – a process for the safe management of chemicals within the workplace) management system in conjunction with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield. This has subsequently been adopted by two other departments within the university.

More recently we have extended the original system to manage ‘Special Permissions’ within the same COSHH framework. These include application to work out of hours, or with certain categories of chemicals, and types of apparatus. This extension simplifies the safety interface for workers, so it is always clear how they need to manage their activities to help ensure safe working practices are maintained within the department.

A further extension opens a common space for the management of ‘Standard Operating Practices’ within the department. These demonstrate ‘best practice for a range of processes where hazard has been identified, from lifting heavy objects, transport and storage of chemicals, through to the safe use and maintenance of vacuum pumps. The common editorial framework allows all members of the department to contribute to the development of these best practices.

The original COSHH system was built in 2009, and has survived 5 years in the wild, building up a database of safety data for over 12,000 chemicals. It was updated in 2012 to accommodate changes in chemical hazard classifications adopted under European law.

Previously – original post on the COSHH system – note the screenshot at the top of this post shows an updated site design to more-closely match the latest University styling, and also incorporates elements of flexible design to cope with smaller mobile device screen sizes.