Safe chemical handling and storage: Your go-to guide

Whether it’s cleaning products or corrosive chemicals, every business deals with hazardous materials on some scale. As an employer, it’s your legal responsibility under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations (2002) to pinpoint risks on your site, reduce their danger to ‘as low as is reasonably practicable’, and regularly monitor your control measures. 

Understanding which materials pose a threat – and how to correctly store, handle, and use them – is critical to protecting your employees and premises. Here’s a quick guide to the basics of COSHH compliance. 

Always start with a risk assessment 

A COSHH risk assessment identifies harmful materials across your sites and evaluates their impact on the people exposed to them. These substances range from commonly used chemicals like paint and bleach to fine dusts and fumes generated from industrial activities such as welding, sanding, or cutting.

Your COSHH risk assessment should bring to light: 

  • Hazardous substances within your branches  
  • Whether these materials pose a risk to health – and who’s likely to be exposed 
  • Ways to eliminate or reduce the hazards completely           
  • Possible substitutes and safer alternatives 
  • Appropriate controls to achieve acceptable workplace exposure limits 
  • Staff training points on the correct handling, storage, and use of hazardous substances
  • Whether you need to consider health surveillance  
  • Suitable emergency procedures  

Follow safe storage and labelling practices 

In line with COSHH requirements, chemicals and hazardous substances should be correctly labelled and stored. Always follow the instructions on the material’s safety data sheet (SDS). 

  • Store chemicals and hazardous materials in a designated area. 
  • Ensure that storage areas are well-ventilated, secure, and situated away from ignition sources and direct sunlight. To maintain safe conditions, confirm that extraction tools and air supplies are working properly. 
  • Store incompatible chemicals separately at a distance of at least three metres. Acids and alkalis should be kept on separate shelves.
  • Store only the minimum required amount of chemicals on-site. 
  • Use secondary containment measures, such as spill trays or bunds, to prevent leaks and spills from spreading.
  • Don’t stack materials against air vents or grills. 
  • Keep substances in their original containers. If you need to decant materials, use suitable, clearly labelled receptacles. 
  • Label all materials with the substance’s name, hazard symbols, handling instructions, and any other relevant information.

Train your team on correct handling techniques

Teaching staff to safely handle hazardous materials prevents accidents, injuries, and harmful exposure. As an employer, it’s important to train your team to understand the risks of chemical handling and effectively protect themselves and others. Staff should know how to: 

  • Read labels and safety data sheets (SDS), interpreting information on hazards, handling instructions, and appropriate control measures.
  • Store, handle, and dispose of COSHH materials according to approved procedures and regulatory requirements.
  • Correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, goggles, aprons, and respirators, as specified on the SDS or recommended by the risk assessment. 
  • Check containers for signs of leaks, wear, and damage before every job. 
  • Maintain correct ventilation to reduce inhalation and exposure risks of fumes, vapours, or dusts. This may include the use of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems.
  • Minimise spills, splashes, or releases and clear up substances immediately using appropriate methods, such as spill kits, absorbent pads, granules, or mats. 
  • Refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where COSHH materials are handled. 
  • Promptly report incidents and concerns to their supervisor or health and safety officer.

Get support from an Opus Safety specialist 

If you have questions about COSHH compliance, we can help. Our experienced consultants support you through identifying risks, improving processes, and creating a safe, efficient working environment. 

Get in touch with the Opus team on or 0330 043 4015.