Risk management is important for all work-related health and safety. This includes knowing the risks associated with hazardous substances in your workplace, taking appropriate measures to manage the risks and reviewing these regularly.

How do I manage hazardous substances risks?

First you need to know what you’ve got. Create an inventory of the hazardous substances manufactured, used, handled or stored in your workplace. When you know the substances and likely quantities that you will hold:

  1. Consider whether you need them, or are there any you can eliminate or substitute with a safer product.
  2. For the remaining substances, put in place the technical controls from the Hazardous Substances Regulations.
  3. Assess your workplace and identify if any risks remain that you need to manage.
  4. Use the hierarchy of controls to determine the most effective control measures to minimise those risks.
  5. Monitor the performance of the control measures.
  6. Maintain and review the control measures.

What is the hierarchy of controls?

The hierarchy of controls(external link) is set out in the Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations(external link). Essentially, it means working through the following measures until the risk to workers from hazardous substances can be removed or minimised.


Can the hazardous substance be removed from the workplace?


If elimination is not possible consider (in this order):

  • Substitution: Whether the substance could be replaced by one posing less risk, such as substituting solvent based inks with inks made from vegetable oil.
  • Isolation: Isolating the hazard can prevent people coming into contact with it, for example spray painting in a fully automated booth.
  • Engineering control measures: Apply physical control measures to minimise risk, such as ventilation.
  • Administrative controls:  If engineering controls are not sufficient to remove the risk, you are required to apply processes to make your workplace safer, e.g. job rotation to reduce the time someone is exposed to a hazardous substance.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): If the risk remains after all other measures have been applied, you must supply and ensure the use of personal protective equipment. For example, respirators can protect staff from inhaling hazardous substances.
Hierarchy of control measures

What do I have to take into account when I’m assessing risk?

In managing risks a business should take the following into account:

  • The amount of the hazardous substance in the workplace
  • Any related physico-chemical hazards (eg explosions, fire, corrosion)
  • Possible reactions with other substances
  • Ignition sources
  • Structures, plant or systems of work involved
  • The risk and degree of exposure to the substance by those carrying out the work involved
  • Any prescribed exposure standards
  • The length of time after use that entry is restricted

Also consider the knowledge and experience of the workers exposed to the hazardous substances.

How do I know what controls to apply?

Safety data sheets are a key source of information about the requirements for each hazardous substance in your workplace. Safety data sheets are mandatory under the Hazardous Substances Regulations.

After preparing your inventory, you can enter the substances into the hazardous substances calculator(external link) to find the key controls you must apply across all the hazardous substances in your workplace.

When do I have to review my risk management?

You need to review and revise your risk management requirements at least every five years, or after:

  • a significant change to a hazardous substance’s safety data sheet, or to the information about it in your inventory
  • any notifiable event in the workplace involving a relevant hazardous substance

You must also provide training and instruction to staff to make sure they can work safely with and around the hazardous substances.

Find out more

See our quick guide:

Hazardous substance risk management - quick guide (PDF 76 KB)

For additional guidance:

Your practical guide to working with hazardous substances(external link)

Changes to hazardous substances regulations (PDF 71 KB)
New rules for hazardous substances (PDF 316 KB)