Sam Case: Hit them with a COSHH

This is an article by Sam Case, a former police officer now working in sport and health.

I carried the old-style truncheon. It was pretty useless. Smashed the odd window with it. It resided mostly in my locker, furloughed, much like the population of late. The risk with weapon deployment is that sometimes, if you are not ruthless enough, or sloppy, it will be taken by the bad guy and used against you. So I invite you to use this particular COSHH against those who make this stuff up.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), is a tome from the annals of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). When you have finished Hector’s book, reading this will help ensure the cleaning spray for the office toilet is kept under lock and key, rather than being used once in a while. It’s a good read by the way – Hector’s book not the COSHH regs – so buy a copy or get the man a Ko-fi before he starts eating his own shoes to survive.

For those not familiar with COSHH or indeed HSE documents in general, it is the usual mix of law and guidance. It deals with work involving chemicals, biological agents and other nasty stuff like silica dust and flour. Yes, flour – I kid you not.

A short but related digression: In my experience too many H&S professionals like to inflict their knowledge onto unsuspecting workers and business owners. Their advice is often full of holes, involving pointless procedures and paperwork, much of it not actually required by the law or the HSE. If you give this much power to people who would have been banned from the Hitler Youth for taking it too seriously, you get a whole world of pain. It all costs a fortune and helps to keep good old Blighty uncompetitive. Although some of it is undoubtedly good, preventing arms and legs from becoming detached… this digression is growing, sorry. Back to the COSHH. Be warned I am going to hit you with a few direct quotes, so strong coffee at the ready. The first thing to note comes early:

However, the Code has a special legal status. If you are prosecuted for breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that you did not follow the relevant provisions of the Code, you will need to show that you have complied with the law in some other way or a Court will find you at fault.

Then this line comes immediately after:

Following the guidance is not compulsory, unless specifically stated, and you are free to take other action.

So you can do what you like to comply with the law, within reason. Remember you comply with the law, not their suggestions of how you can comply.

Now, obviously, the focus of this little article is the world-wide panic in the face of the non-plague plague known as COVID-19. It is possible, if more labs test their old bog water, and COSHH regs in those countries means the bleach was locked away, we may have to rename it COVID-18, or even COVID From Fuck Knows When, or CFFKW for short. Anyway, it is a biological agent, about which COSHH says:

‘biological agent’ means a micro-organism, cell culture, or human endoparasite, whether or not genetically modified, which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity or otherwise create a hazard to human health.

It specifically includes viruses, so CFFKW fits the bill along with every other human-to-human bug, like flu.

Now to their definition of risk:

‘risk’, in relation to the exposure of an employee to a substance hazardous to health, means the likelihood that the potential for harm to the health of a person will be attained under the conditions of use and exposure and also the extent of that harm

We can see that the interesting parts of this paragraph are the words likelihood (probability) and extent (seriousness). Keep these in mind. Now things get interesting when we look at the section on biological agents:

The general duties of COSHH apply to incidental exposure to, and deliberate work with, biological agents. However, COSHH does not cover a situation where, for example, one employee catches a respiratory infection from another. This is because regulation 2(2) specifies that COSHH only applies in those circumstances where risks of exposure are work related, and not those where they have no direct connection with the work being done.

Incidental exposure to biological agents can occur when an employee’s work activity brings them into contact with material which contains infectious agents, eg. blood, body fluids, contaminated water, waste material or bedding/laundry etc.

Let’s consider these two paragraphs in relation to a typical pub. The employer does not need to worry about being sued because one employee catches the CFFKW from another worker. Co-workers regularly swap all sorts of fluids, and that’s not something the HSE really want to get into. It would also seem – not that this not a reliable legal opinion – that exposure from ordinary punters having a drink or their weekly pie and mash is not covered.

The second paragraph could, however, conceivably be interpreted by an ambulance-chasing, Latin-espousing knob (lawyer) to include the handling of knives, forks, spoons, plates and glasses from the infected masses. So an employer could have a word in the ‘shells’ of their workers and tell them to stop eating the leftover puddings or swilling the dregs from partially-drained glasses.

Remember the words likelihood and extent: an employer can argue that infection is unlikely (supermarket workers have not been disproportionately infected), and if the employee is under sixty, almost never serious. So a low matrix score for the risk assessment.

They also need to remind them to wash their hands. But, importantly, not too frequently. Not too frequently? Surely, Sam, you may object, you have this wrong? Shouldn’t they be washing their hands every few minutes like they are getting kids to do in school? Well, wait a minute, and take a deep breath. Let’s look at COSHH. What sage (pun intended) words do they offer? Scrub every few minutes with 80% alcohol or another chemical concoction? No. COSHH specifically warns:

‘Wet work’ is one of the most frequently and consistently reported causes of irritant occupational contact dermatitis. ‘Wet work’ is the term used to describe tasks involving prolonged or frequent contact with water, particularly in combination with soaps and detergents.

F**k me! So hit your shops, schools and any other outfit who are happily spraying, washing and generally abusing chemicals in the workplace. Chemicals (nothing against them) that have never been tested for prolonged and regular human ingestion, inhalation or contact. Most commercial and household cleaning agents contain warnings about appropriate use, exposure, and certainly do not recommend regular spraying in perplex booths with little or no air changes. Ask them for their risk assessment or safety data sheet. Then look at their face for the expression of dread, panic, or a realisation they haven’t got a clue about H&S regulations. ‘COSHH them until they bleed’ as the old truncheon saying goes. Better still roll around the floor frothing at the mouth shortly after they hit you with a hand-gel.

This last shiny nugget:

Where a duty is placed by these Regulations on an employer in respect of his employees, he shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, be under a like duty in respect of any other person, whether at work or not, who may be affected by the work carried out by the employer except that the duties of the employer –

(a) under regulation 11 (health surveillance) shall not extend to persons who are not his employees

So no health surveillance requirements. Burn those customer logs!

All joking aside, this is not a full legal analysis so don’t rely on it, COSHH is one-hundred pages long and I would need therapy to read it all again. However, enforcing some of the recent nonsense will be almost impossible, so a quick sensible judgement should help consign much of this madness to the trash can.

I’m off to brush up on my Latin. I suspect those ambulance chasers will be busy with contact dermatitis cases soon. Another career change? No win no fee!

Aegrescit medendo.

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17 thoughts on “Sam Case: Hit them with a COSHH

  1. I’m looking forward to TV advertising come the autumn with even less enthusiasm than I usually do (and believe me, my enthusiasm for such is immeasurably small) – now that PPI (which financial institutions were required by the regulator to sell as hard as possible) is a dead duck, every other ad will be along the lines of “COVID-19? Caught it at work? Employer negligence? Call the claim line! Our specialists are standing by to help us, woops, sorry, you!”

  2. I don’t why it does that, I’ve set it to allow 6 links in a comment. Seems like WordPress, or maybe a server in the chain somewhere, sometimes applies its own rules in addition.

  3. 5 links in my post. Tried splitting it. Still got 403 forbidden on 2 links. Guess it now think I’m spamming because of my attempts to find something that works.

  4. Worked in a large bakery for a while and flour is pretty dangerous stuff to be around especially in large volumes

  5. @Sam
    Interesting and informative, thanks

    Links: my findings are WordPress etc don’t like url heavy, text light posts



    Wibble wobble wormble
    WordPress etc don’t like url heavy
    Interesting and informative
    my findings are WordPress

  6. You’ll have to create the full urls.

    Here is Coronavirus – the map movie, based on Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 data for England. Open in adjacent tabs of your browser, and flip between them to see how the epidemic progressed since the beginning of May. Charts are of weekly infection rates at week intervals: the date is the end date of the week. The list is in order to end June.


    Some other charts that may be useful:

    Comparison of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 overall data for England, showing the ramping up of Pillar 2 across April leading to many more infection reports.


    Cases by local authority over time (best viewed on a computer or large tablet in portrait orientation)


    Map for Pillar 1 as at end June


    Leicester doesn’t exactly stand out there.

  7. Addolff,
    For me, the film’s essentially loose exposition of the dangers of mixing flour and some yellow stuff didn’t work. I felt that the director had lead us somewhat disingenuously into expecting more from the opus than he/she/it could realistically deliver. The main plot was, I thought, rather meagre and lacked a certain animation.
    Having said that, I can allow the interspersed written story line full marks for creativity in spelling, syntax, grammar and punctuation.
    All in all, a reasonable first effort, let down by the lack of any sound, which is always helpful in understanding the latent leitmotif the director is, presumably, hoping to expose.

  8. John, an excellent critique of the work. I believe that in time, this will become a classic, seen as a work of genius, understood only by a few enlightened cognoscenti and mentioned with the same reverence as ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ or ‘The Blob’.
    You are Mark Kermode and I claim my £5

  9. I’m most obliged Addolff. Just one question, if I may.
    Who is Mark Kermode? It sounds like a made-up name.

  10. Hi John, he is a film reviewer. Not arty farty and generally if he recommends a movie it is worth a watch. And if you haven’t seen plan 9, give it a go. Regularly voted the worst movie of all time.

  11. Thanks A,
    I will, but having watched some “golden oldies” on Talking Pictures, Channel 81, it’ll have to be pretty good. Or bad.

  12. I won’t be opening our office until HSE and the government steer away from the “COVID SECURE” mantra. Sorry mate but it’s not worth the risk. You can keep supporting those families on the welfare state until you grow a pair. UK plc going down the drain. Good luck funding your NHS with what’s left of the private sector.

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