COSHH responsibilities for employers working in occupied premises

Under the COSHH regulations employers have a number of important duties to protect the health of employees and other people likely to be affected by their work with hazardous substances. These COSHH responsibilities include: carrying our COSHH assessments; prevention or control of exposure; use of control measures; maintenance, testing and examination of control measures; monitoring exposure; health surveillance; providing information and training, and; putting in place arrangements for accidents, incidents and emergencies.

In the construction industry it is common to work within other employers premises, and these will often be occupied. You could be completing maintenance work, a large refurbishment or extension project, and due to the nature of construction work it is likely hazardous substances covered by the COSHH regulations will be involved - from the creation of silica dust during demolition to the use of cleaning products at completion.

Firstly, it is important to note that if you are a contractor, sub-contractor or self-employed you have the duties and responsibilities of an employer under the COSHH regulations, in respect of your responsibilities to your employees and others affected by your works. The self-employed also have duties of employees which will be covered in another post.

What happens when there a two or more employers on one premises or site? This happens all the time, and can be a contractor working in occupied premises, or sub-contractors working on a main contractor’s site. Does the occupying employer take the COSHH responsibilities as it is their premises? Does the main contractor take the responsibilities as they are managing the works? Does each employer take responsibility for their own employees?

Where your employees are working at other employers premises, both you and the other employer(s) have duties under the COSHH regulations. Rather than each taking responsibility for the safety of your own workforces independently, you each have duties to your own employees and, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the employees of the other employer(s).

To make sure that all COSHH duties are fulfilled, you should co-operate and collaborate with the other employer(s). You should not be expected to manage risks that are created by another employer - they should take the responsibility to manage the risks of their activities and substances, controlling exposure to their own employees and your employees if they are likely to be affected.

It is easy to only concentrate on managing your own risks when planning the construction phase - in terms of COSHH responsibilities this would be just looking at the substances used or produced by your own activities on site. Where your employees are working within occupied premises, there may be substances hazardous to health that are used or produced on the premises that you are not familiar with, particularly if you are working within industrial, manufacturing or medical premises. Just as the occupier will need to know about any substances hazardous to health that they may be exposed to from the construction work, you and your employees will also need to know about any substances hazardous to health that they may be exposed to by working within the premises. Other employers should provide you with sufficient detail to allow you to provide information and instruction to your employees so that they can comply with the control measures in place.