Following changes to the UK’s classification of carcinogens and workplace exposure limits the occupational health specialists at WTS have prepared this technical guidance note to help employers understand some of the significant changes that may affect them and their workers.
Carcinogens and workplace exposure limits
The most recent Health and Safety Executive publication on workplace exposure limits, EH40/2005 was released in January 2020.
This detailed publication lists over 500 commonly found substances which are hazardous under the COSHH regulations, and gives their legal exposure limits.
One of the most significant changes in the HSE’s 2020 update to EH40/2005 was that workplace exposure limits (WELs) have been reduced for 11 occupational carcinogens which were previously identified, and two new substances have now been reclassified as carcinogens too.
What is a carcinogen?
A carcinogen is any substance which, when people are exposed to it can cause cancer at some point in the future.
The time lag between exposure to the carcinogenic substance and the individual developing cancer can be substantial, and is often more than ten years.
Substances defined as carcinogens come in all shapes, sizes and forms. They can be dusts, gases, vapours, solids or liquids.
Carcinogens can get into the body when people swallow them, breathe them in or absorb them through the skin.
Workplace exposure and carcinogens
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets strict legal limits which are designed to protect the health of all workers.
WELs are measured over a period of time, and are a defined as a concentration of particles in the air.
If work involves exposure to substances identified as carcinogens, then employers have a legal duty to take steps to keep exposure to a minimum, regardless of what the WEL figure is.
For example, if measuring finds that the levels of hardwood dust in a particular environment was 1 mg per cubic metre of air, then steps should still be taken to reduce the levels, even though the legal maximum is 3mg per cubic metre of air.
EH40/2005 – updated workplace exposure limits
The 2020 update reduced the legal maximum concentrations of the following carcinogens.
If any of these substances are present, then organisations will need to review their current COSHH risk assessments and consider how to make any further improvements.
Two new carcinogens added to EH40/2005
In addition to the above 11 chemicals which have had their exposure limits lowered, two new substances have been added to the HSE list of carcinogens. These are:
Reviewing your risk assessments and workplace exposure monitoring
The re-classification of these substances and the reduction in exposure limits means that many companies will have to look at their monitoring and risk assessments to make sure that they are complying with the legal obligations as set out in the COSHH rules.
There is lots of advice online about control of hazardous substances, both from the Health and Safety Executive and from other independent sources.
Many companies choose to outsource this to the experts, and there are lots of consultants and external providers who will help you in managing the risks.
Specialist workplace risk management solutions
WTS offer a comprehensive range of workplace monitoring and risk management solutions to support employers, health and safety professionals, and facilities management specialists.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification, investigation and prevention of a range of workplace risks.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers and technicians we offer cost effective workplace support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
Contact us today to learn how our workplace monitoring and risk management solutions can help improve safety and performance standards.
More information about limits on carcinogens and workplace exposure.