Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

At first glance, many event professionals would wonder why the The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) have any relevance to the events industry. The approved code of practice (HSE L5) discusses the safety implications of seemly non-event related items – such as dust particles, biological agents, toxic compounds and viruses, bacteria and fungi.

There are however many instances where COSHH is relevant to an event, and the works that are undertaken at an event – for example think about the storage of toilet cleaning chemicals within a conference venue and how these might affect a delegate with a strong allergic reaction. Also consider the use of fuels (diesel, petrol, gas) on event sites to power vehicles, cooking equipment or generators and how a spill or the fumes or byproducts from the use of these could affect your workforce, volunteers or guests.

Consideration should be given to the provision, storage and use of all chemicals and information should be sought from the contractor or supplier that will be using them. Each substance should be assessed for the risks that it could cause and what undertakings can be made to reduce these risks – whether it be in the storage, use or information provided about the substance.

Each substance should be accompanied by a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which will give clear information about the substance and its correct use. It will also give information about what to do in the event of a spill or if the substance is accidentally consumed.


Example:A number of chemical ‘recirculating’ toilets were in use on a temporary site. Instead of water, these toilets used the commonly known ‘Event Blue’ chemical disinfectant. On this occasion a small child (under the supervision of their parent) mistook the blue coloured liquid for a sweet drink and dipped, and then licked their fingers.

Alerted by the blue appearance of the child, the parents sought help from the site manager who, using the readily available MSDS sheet was able to establish that the best response was to dilute the chemical with plenty of fresh clean drinking water.

The child made a full recovery and the parents were reminded of the need to be more watchful over their children. Without the MSDS information available, this could have been a lot more serious.

Consideration should be given to working with substances and how they might affect the workforce or members of the public:

  • skin puncture
  • swallowed or ingested
  • contact with eyes
  • breathing in fumes
  • contact with skin

From these considerations, and guided by the MSDS sheet you will be able to assess the risk of the substance and initiate control measures to reduce the risk – these could include (but not limited to):

  • Eye protection
  • Skin protection (gloves, overalls, boots, full covering of arms and legs etc)
  • Adequate ventilation

Training should be undertaken with operatives (or you should ask for training records from your contractors and you should obtain the signature of those being trained to show that they have received and understood the training. Finally, you should ensure suitable and sufficient supervision of workers to ensure compliance with the risk assessment / method statement and training.

Other instances of COSHH issues on event sites could include:

  • Dust from set builds (especially MDF)
  • Chemicals for cleaning
  • Propellants (such as used in spray glue, spray paint)

More information can be found in this excellent COSHH guidance from the HSE