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Work-related deaths: 99% due to chemical exposures

Posted: 15 June 2017


Diagnosis COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease stethoscope

Occupational health is top of the agenda during Health and Safety Week 2017. Cases of occupational ill health continue to rise from the statistics released by HSE at the end of 2015. At this time about 99% of work-related deaths each year were associated with exposure to chemicals. The largest percentage of deaths arose from cancers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In total, around 13,000 deaths each year are from work-related lung disease and cancer attributed to past exposures.

This shocking statistic amounts to the same rate of fatalities as three jumbo jets crashing per month!

Whilst this would create massive public outcry for action, the deaths from chemicals exposures go essentially unnoticed – apart from close friends and family of those affected who have to witness their slow demise. Even where death does not result, many suffer decreasing quality of life with poor lung function and mobility, skin problems, and other conditions.

Events such as the Health and Safety week, and attention from HSE, are intended to bring about a change in the attention paid to “chemical” assessments and control regimes.

Recent regulatory changes should have initiated a review of company COSHH assessments. The REACH Regulations have required a vast range of new toxicology studies for routinely-used substances. These tests have resulted in new hazards being identified and the issue of revised Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). The SDSs themselves have been significantly extended and modified taking into account new classification and labelling requirements imposed by the European CLP Regulations. This has resulted in workers being confronted with unfamiliar label phrases and symbols, and lengthy SDSs where the information they need is “diluted” with other material. Any review should consider if the measures currently being used are adequate in the light of these changes.

It is now time to get back to basics and ensure full compliance with the COSHH Regulations.

These key stages are of paramount importance:

  • Identify the hazards of the substances/mixtures you are using (or generating through your work).
  • Assess the risks by considering how you use them in your workplace.
  • Identify the measures you need to control the risks, taking into account the COSHH “hierarchy of controls”.
  • Train workers in the use of the control measures and ensure they are used correctly.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of the control measures.

Safety Management can help you with all of the above. Call us today to find out more.

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