Harmful substances 

Schools and colleges contain many substances that are potentially dangerous. Such substances will be found, for example, in laboratories, craft rooms, art rooms or cleaners’ storerooms. 

Many of these substances are easily recognisable because they will be labelled: irritant, corrosive, harmful, toxic, very toxic and/or poisonous. 

Some harmful substances may be produced in schools and colleges, e.g. products of chemical experiments. 

Some substances are not toxic but are still potentially dangerous and are covered by the Regulations (e.g. dust in quantity). 

Employers’ responsibilities 

The employer is legally responsible for compliance with the Regulations and is required to carry out an ‘assessment’ of all substances that may be hazardous to health in the workplace. 

Having identified such substances, the employer should remove them or provide staff with sufficient equipment, instruction and training to enable them to use them without risk. 

The employer must carry out a thorough inspection of any control equipment installed (e.g. fume cupboards) at least once every 14 months in order to ensure that it is working effectively. 

Visual checks should be made at regular intervals appropriate to the individual circumstances. 

Risk assessment 

The HSE advises that risk assessment involves ‘working out the chances of any substance causing harm in the actual circumstances of its use or production (i.e. the risk) and then, in the light of that, determining the precautions that are needed’. 

The employer must appoint a ‘competent person’ to undertake risk assessments. 

The competent person must be ‘competent’ by dint of training, experience or aptitude and knowledge of the workplace. The employer is solely responsible for ensuring the competence of those to whom the task has been delegated. 

An employer may request assistance from staff in completing the task of conducting a risk assessment, particularly in specialist subject areas. 

The NASUWT does not believe that the responsibility for conducting risk assessments should form any part of a teacher’s job description. Members who are asked to do more than assist in the process should seek advice from the NASUWT. 

‘General’ risk assessments 

‘General’ risk assessments may be used provided they are applicable to the actual circumstances of the school or college. 

For example, some local authorities and schools use ‘Hazcards’ as general assessments for substances and experiments used in school science. 

‘Hazcards’ are produced by the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS). A subscription is required to access these. 

Employees’ responsibilities 

It is the responsibility of employees to comply with the employer’s instructions when using (or causing to be used) hazardous substances. 

Employees should check when using or making a substance that they are doing so in the recommended manner. 

The NASUWT supports all measures intended to improve the health and safety of its members at work. The NASUWT Representative should be consulted by those undertaking assessments. Any worries or concerns members have regarding the operation of the COSHH Regulations should be reported to the NASUWT. 

Further information, advice and support 

Detailed guidance is available in the form of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres – Approved Code of Practice, which is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
England, Scotland and Wales
Northern Ireland

The HSE produces a variety of useful publications that are available on its website. Additional information is available on CLEAPSS.

Where an NASUWT member suffers any injury they should telephone the NASUWT free Legal Advice Line 0808 100 2221. 

For further advice and support, contact your Local Association or your National or Regional Centre.