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Describe hazardous substances and materials that may be found in the work setting


This page is designed to answer the following questions:

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Hazardous substances are any substances that can damage health or cause illness. They can be solids, liquids and gases and may have an immediate effect (acute) or cause long-term damage (chronic). They can cause harm via ingestion, inhalation, injection, being splashed in the eyes or by contact with the skin.


There are several types of hazardous substances that may be found in a health and social care setting.

These include:

  • Cleaning products (e.g. bleach, oven cleaner, toilet cleaner etc.)
  • Clinical waste (e.g. used dressings, soiled pads etc.)
  • Bodily fluids (e.g. saliva, mucus, blood etc.)
  • Medication
  • Contaminated linen (e.g. bedding, towels, clothes etc.)
  • Dust (e.g. from building work)
  • Fumes (e.g. from delivery vehicles)

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 covers the handling of these types of substances including how they should be stored, used and disposed of. Please note that COSHH regulations do not cover lead, radioactive materials or asbestos because these have their own separate regulations.


Hazard pictograms on the labels of hazardous substances can help you to identify the chemicals it contains and the potential harm they may cause. A useful list of these can be found on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

You should always read the label on any chemicals you use in the workplace and follow the directions for use. In addition, you must follow your employer’s agreed ways of working to ensure the safety of yourself and others. This is especially relevant when handling clinical waste and contaminated linen to prevent the spread of infection. Your employer must perform a risk assessment around the use of hazardous substances and provide policies and procedures for storing, handling and disposing them safely.

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