Blog • 01.03.16

The difference between Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and COSHH Assessments

This week we are focusing on the difference between safety data sheet (SDS) and COSSH assessments, and why both are necessary to assessing the risks involved when working with a hazardous substance.

Our guest blogger, Hamish Robertson, is an industry expert with over 18 years of experience in chemical safety and regulatory compliance having worked with clients such as British AirwaysH.J. Heinz, and GE Healthcare. Currently, Hamish is the Lead Developer and Quality Manager for the COSHH management team at Alcumus, our parent company.

Take it away Hamish…

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and COSHH Assessments

To answer the main question, which is “Is there a difference between Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and COSHH Assessments, lets looks at COSHH more in depth. The COSHH Regulations provide a framework to protect people at work against health risks that may arise from work activities that expose them to hazardous substances. The control measures requisite to prevent harm are documented in the form of a COSHH assessment. It is a common misconception that risk assessment is the identification of the hazardous properties of a substance; the hazardous properties of a substance constitute its potential to cause harm, while the risk is the likelihood that it will cause harm in the actual circumstances of use.

An assessor must appreciate the difference between these two concepts. The purpose of a chemical risk assessment (the COSHH assessment) is to ensure that a valid decision is made about the control measures which should be taken to prevent or control exposure to substances hazardous to health. In practical terms, a risk assessment will demonstrate that suitable and enough judgement has been taken to reach these.
A pragmatic, common sense approach should be adopted about writing assessments. The principle behind a risk assessment is that it should enable a person undertaking an activity (whatever their expertise) to:

  • Understand the hazards and subsequent risks of substances used in the activity.
  • Appreciate the necessity to implement appropriate control measures to minimise the risk to health.
  • Identify such control measures and know how to implement them (such as using engineering controls or personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Know what to do when something goes wrong (first aid procedures, spillage requirements, etc.)

Safety data sheets alone do not constitute a risk assessment

But are merely the starting reference point for such an assessment, as the SDS only gives you information about the substance itself – you must assess the risk from use of the substance in the actual work activity, including amounts, concentrations etc. They contain important information as to the health and safety hazards posed by chemicals/substances, required exposure control measures, first aid requirements, spillage containment, safe disposal requirements and so forth. The COSHH assessor uses this information so that they have the facts necessary to prevent and control exposure to these hazards.

Alcumus have over 30 years’ experience writing COSHH assessments for over 150,000 substances. Their team of chemists, toxicologists and consultants are highly experienced and provide support 7 days a week.