Hazardous Substances and Personal Protective Equipment


Welcome to our third toolbox talk, can you believe it?

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve been through so far:
1. Introduction to H&S and Accidents and Ill Health
2. Introduction to Health and Safety Legislation and Risk Assessments.

And if you’re still not really sure what to do with these toolbox talks, then have a quick read in our blog What’s the deal with toolbox talks and check out how to implement them into your work routine.

This month we’re covering hazardous substances and PPE, so let’s get going:

Hazardous substances

What are hazardous substances?

Every year, many workers are made ill by substances hazardous to health. This is unacceptable, and in many cases preventable. But what exactly does a ‘substance hazardous to health’ mean?

There are different exposures to be aware of in the workplace: exposure by breathing in, exposure by skin contact, exposure by swallowing, exposure to eyes, & exposure to skin puncture

As an employer, you are obliged by law to provide the correct safety equipment and to manage hazards wherever they can’t be eliminated.

The European Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging

The European Regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of substances (CLP Regulation) is a ubiquitous system of classifying and labelling chemicals through hazard pictograms.

Hazardous Pictograms

The pictograms are designed to alert people if something contains a hazardous chemical. It is important that management as well as employees understand these health hazards, and know how to control them.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)

As a general manager or a health and safety manager, there are some regulations that you are obliged to abide by.

The main requirements of the COSHH are:

  • Assessing risks. To be able to control hazards, you will first need to have identified them properly. By carrying out an initial risk assessment and then doing rolling updates, you should have a clear overview of who’s exposed, for how long, and how serious the exposure is. The HSE have developed an online tool that helps you identify and control exposure
  • Have correct exposure control measures. Controlling the exposure correctly is often a mix between PPE, other safety equipment and working to reduce exposure as much possible

“You need control measures that work and continue to work – all day, every day” HSE

  • Things change, and so should your planned precautions. As a rule of thumb, you need to check three things; that the process isn’t emitting uncontrolled contaminants, that the control equipment is doing its job and that the workers are following the right way of working.

Asbestos Work Regulations

Left on its own, asbestos isn’t dangerous. But as soon as you disturb it, the small fibres are released. These asbestos fibres can be lethal and cause cancer and lung disease.

Asbestos often hides in; sprayed coating on walls, cement, pipe lagging, loose fill insulation, textured decorative coating, AIB ceiling tiles, AIB bath panels, toilet seats & cisterns, AIB behind fuse boxes, AIB airing cupboards, AIB partition walls, AIB interior window panels, AIB around boiler and storage heaters, vinyl tiles and behind fires.

It’s vital that your employees take precautions even on the smallest of jobs. Though all public buildings and commercial premises must have a map showing if there is any asbestos in the building, it can be where you least expect it.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force in April 2012 as the EU didn’t approve of the UK’s implementation of the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos.

The main points of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 are the following:

  • If existing asbestos containing materials are in good condition, they may be left in place
  • If you want to do any new building or maintenance you have a duty to manage the asbestos and keep the people working there safe
  • In the majority of cases, work with asbestos needs to be done by a licensed contractor.
  • Training is mandatory for anyone liable to be exposed to asbestos fibres at work

Make sure your employees:

  • Can read the different hazard pictograms, and understand what they mean
  • Know how to assess risk on the spotUnderstand dangers and control measures
  • Know if there is any asbestos on the premise, and know how to work with it if needed
  • Understand the dos and don’ts of working safely with asbestos

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The overall purpose of personal protective equipment is to protect against health and safety risks at work. PPE protects the head and feet from falling material, the lungs from breathing in contaminated air, the body from heat and cold exhaustion, and the eyes from splashes of corrosive liquid.

PPE should be a last resort, and you as a manager should work to control hazards in stead of just issuing protective equipment.

When PPE is required even after implementing controls, the employer must provide this free of charge to the employees

In choosing the right PPE for employees, you should consider who is exposed and to what, the length of exposure as well as the level of exposure.

There is personal protective equipment for pretty much all parts of the body that can be exposed to hazardous materials.


To protect the eyes from metal splash, radiation, splashes of corrosive liquid there are a whole range of PPE solutions. Frequently used equipment includes spectacles, goggles, face screens and visors. It’s important that the PPE is chosen for the exact purpose, and to fit the user properly.

Head and Neck

To protect from falling or flying objects and from hair getting tangled in machinery etc., it’s important to wear the appropriate protective gear on the top half of the body. When picking the helmets, hairnets and bump caps it’s important that you consider exactly what hazard it will be protecting the employee from.


The main protection needed for the ears is from noise. The correct ear plug, ear muffs etc should be chosen based on the combination of exposure in terms of sound level, duration of exposure and the frequency of the noise.

Feet and Legs

Protective equipment for feet and legs can protect from all sorts of things in the environment. Choose boots, shoes and special footwear bearing in mind the hazards in the environment where the employee will be carrying out his/her work.

Hands and Arms

As with choosing all PPE, the environment and the exposure should be considered when choosing the specific protective equipment. PPE for hands and arms can protect against cuts, electric shock, biological agents etc and should be chosen accordingly. Some of the most frequently used PPE solutions for protecting the hands and arms are gloves, gauntlets and sleeves


PPE that protects against hazards to the respiratory system are extremely important. Not only must employees have the correct protective equipment for the environment in which they work, they must know exactly how to fit it. Some frequently used protective equipment that protects the lungs include: filtering face pieces, respirators, and other breathing apparatuses.

Whole Body

In some environments, it can be necessary to wear PPE that cover the entire body. Whole body coverage can include overalls, boiler suits and chemical suits and should also be chosen to fit the level of exposure.

Make sure your employees:

  • Know the exact personal protective equipment they are expected to use, and in what situation
  • Know how to properly fit the personal protective equipment
  • Have their PPE replaced immediately when it is damaged
  • Are aware of the person responsible for PPE in the organisation, and know who to go to if they have any questions
  • Know how to maintain their PPE