CHECK THE CONTROL MEASURES
A SCENARIO OF RESPONSIBILITY
The fourth step of the COSHH assessment requires the employer or authorised person to ensure that the methods employed to control exposure are:
Properly used To this end, it is important to ensure that all personnel, especially those working with hazardous substances are fully-informed, trained and competent to use the methods of control.
Are frequently checked The employer is required in the Regulations to check from time to time that the controls are kept in efficientworking order and in constant good repair, and to maintain records of examination for at least five years.
APPLYING THE IDEAS
Now that decisions have been made about the measures that will be employed to control exposure to aluminium powder when it is used in the workplace, our crime scene examiner has a responsibility to employ best practice (to do what the assessment has indicated should be done). The employer also a responsibility, to ensure the continued training and competencies of their staff employed as crime scene examiners.
If the assessment has identified the need to use a breathing mask and goggles, then these should be used. After all, if they are not, and the scene examiner later finds they have developed some condition attributable to the aluminium powder, one wonders whether they have a moral right to seek recompense for a condition they could reasonably have avoided? And of course, the employer should be able to show that control measures identified as being necessary are in fact being adopted, something that can only be achieved by periodic checking, the keeping of proper records, and adequate training.
Imagine, for example, a situation in which at the time of the original COSHH assessment, current scientific understanding said there was no known link between inhaled aluminium powders and carcinomas (cancer) of the lung. Aware of this "fact", the crime scene examiner then decides that because the wearing of a mask is uncomfortable, he will choose to dust for fingerprints without using the mask. This absence of use is noted by other colleagues who work alongside our examiner from time to time but no record is kept by the employer. Several years pass and we find that the original COSHH assessment has neither been reviewed, nor has the employer kept full records of training for our crime scene examiner. Our examiner has, by this time, reported a progressive difficulty in breathing, a recurrent shortage of breath and loss of weight.
At about this same time, new scientific evidence emerges which shows a conclusive link between inhaled particles of aluminium powder of exactly the type used by the crime scene examiner and a particularly aggressive carcinoma of the lung. The examiner decides to sue the employer because he was not adequetly trained or informed.
So, is the employer or the examiner responsible for this outcome?
This may sound rather far fetched, but is it really that far removed from arguments once applied to say, tobacco smoking, or working with asbestos?