‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet’(Act II, Scene II, Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare). The thing is, the semantics can be important and where language is a barrier to universal understanding, we rely heavily on imagery, so unless a rose can be well depicted you may find that some think they are getting a Carnation.
Problems with images for chemical packaging and labelling have been confusing people this way for some time, the globally harmonised systems for chemical labelling and packaging is aimed at laying some of these issues to rest, but is the problem really differences in labelling or is it understanding at a deeper level?
Despite the fact that COSHH classified materials are used routinely in households and almost every business from time to time there is still a perception that there is a dark art or voodoo to carrying out assessments or achieving proper control. I’d even go so far as to say that much of the time where this perception is absent it is because the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and those concerned fail to even recognise that there is any risk that needs assessing.
So why is there so much fear and inaction surrounding substances hazardous to health?
Well, the label IS a bit scary and that could be enough to put some shrinking violets off taking the job on, but here’s a sneaking suspicion I’ve had for some time…….we did it, safety practitioners I mean, not specifically any one individual, but collectively and gradually, because some of the tools at our disposal have always been scare stories and statistics. Because there ARE some real complexities to COSHH surrounding exposure levels and toxicity (to over simplify) scaring people has really worked, but only for assessment, not for using the stuff!
For example, COSHH Essentials, a simple to use, free to access tool, has been around since 1998 for SME’s, despite this I have yet to come across a client (who have usually been in contact with a fellow practitioner at least once before) who knows about COSHH Essentials as a tool for assessment, guidance or even reassurance but plenty know what corrosive means or how some acids will disintegrate your bones!
For vast swathes of industry, COSHH assessment principles are simple – most COSHH assessment models are far more prescriptive and easier to follow AND get right, than general risk assessment methods that those same businesses are comfortable undertaking.
I'm certain that I am not the only practitioner concerned with this already shaky foundation to lay further change over. So if you don’t already know what is hiding in your COSHH cabinet, under your sink or on your shelves, go and check it out – and while you are there, since the majority of information you will need to use for assessment purposes isn’t on the label, get the data sheet (it’s easy, call the supplier or manufacturer or Google it) go to COSHH Essentials armed with some information about how and when you use it, and give it a spin. Oh and don’t forget to watch this about the impending labelling changes too.