APPLYING THE IDEAS
The sixth step of the COSHH assessment requires the employer or responsible person to monitor the health of workers and maintain records of health checks where:
Case 1 -
Workers are exposed to a hazardous substance which is known to be linked to a particular disease or have an adverse effect on health
Under the normal working conditions there is a reasonable likelihood that the particular disease or adverse effect will occur
The disease or adverse effect can be detected with valid techniques
Case 2 -
Processes listed under Schedule 6 of COSHH are involved;
There is a likelihood of significant exposure of workers to the substance listed in the Schedule
The health checks and consequent records, whoever makes them (usually a medically competent person such as a doctor or nurse), should be made at regular intervals and kept for at least 40 years (see the HSE's guidance note Health surveillance under COSHH)
So far as aluminium powder is concerned, does the employer need to monitor the health of its crime scene examiner?
Assessment of the literature on the possible adverse effects of aluminium powder indicate:
For Case 1:
Exposure to aluminium dust is known or reported to have some adverse effects on health
It is not clear whether under normal working conditions an adverse effect will occur
No adverse effect has been recorded or detected in any crime scene examiners
Since not all three of the conditions for Case 1 are met, it follows that there is no requirement under COSHH for the employer to monitor health regarding exposure to aluminium powder. This outcome would be revised if evidence of adverse effects was available under normal working conditions, and these had been reported or detected in the workforce.
For Case 2:
The use of aluminium powder is not listed under Schedule 6 of the COSHH Regulations. (view Schedule 6 of the full Regulations)
Since the process is not listed under Schedule 6, health monitoring is not mandatory.
The Moral Case
An employer has a duty of reasonable care to ensure the good health of its employees and should not require an employee to carry out any process using hazardous substances where there is any evidence of possible harmful effects unless control measures have been implemented. In making this assessment, we would recommend that employers offer periodic (yearly) lung function tests to crime scene examiners routinely engaged in the use of powders, especially aluminiun powder.