Last edited 15 Jul 2021

Hazardous substances

Many workplaces include hazardous substances (solids, liquids or gases) exposure to which can have negative affects on the body through contact with the skin, inhalation or ingestion. Exposure to hazardous substances can result in short or long term health effects. This includes serious health problems such as cancer, asthma and dermatitis.

Hazardous substances may include:

  • Flowers, fruits, vegetables and bulbs, which can cause dermatitis.
  • Working for prolonged periods with water and cleaning agents, which can cause dermatitis.
  • Prolonged contact with wet cement which can lead to chemical burns or dermatitis.
  • Dusty or fumy conditions which can cause lung diseases.
  • Paint, glue, ink, lubricant, detergent and beauty products.

However, if the substances are used in the correct manner, potential ill health caused by them should be preventable.

There is a common law duty placed on all employers to protect employees and members of the public as well as general health and safety legislation that is applicable to employers and workplaces. There is also the specific legislation of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

Under this legislation, hazardous substances are classified as toxic, very toxic, corrosive, harmful or irritant. They include those substances that are allocated a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL), large quantities of dust and certain biological agents that are used in the workplace.

See COSHH for more information.

Individuals that are at risk from hazardous substances include anyone who works with or is exposed to them. Individuals exposed for prolonged periods are generally more at risk than others. The groups of people that could have a higher risk of exposure to hazardous substances include:

Controls for sites where hazardous substances could be present and where development is proposed close to them include:

In England, a system of consents for hazardous substances is implemented through the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990 and through various regulations.

Further specific guidance on all aspects of hazardous substances and planning can be found on the Planning portal website.

NB Water for life and livelihoods, River basin management plans, Glossary, Published by the Environment Agency in 2016, defines hazardous substances as: ‘…any substance or group of substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bio-accumulate. The Joint Agencies Groundwater Directive Advisory Group (JAGDAG) provide a mechanism for making UK wide determinations and compile a UK list of hazardous substances.’

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