OSHA vs. COSHH: Which regulations to follow?

U.K. businesses have an important responsibility to ensure that they meet workplace chemical safety standards and comply with the appropriate regulations. A major problem when aiming to meet these key objectives is that those responsible for compliance often aren’t quite sure of the exact body of regulations that apply: OSHA or COSHH.

To avoid further confusion, it’s important that businesses know the full details of OSHA and COSHH, which they can discover from the quick guide below.


EU-OSHA is an agency of the European Union concerned with serving the needs of people involved with occupational safety across the workplace. OSHA performs three broad tasks relating to health and safety in the workplace:

  • Analysis and research through the collection and publishing of studies on occupational safety.
  • Prevention by designing risk management systems that help policymakers define key health and safety risks and setting minimum safety requirements through EU directives.
  • Campaigning by publishing information and guides on recommended OSHA standards of workplace safety.

OSHA Focal Points

The OSHA agency operates with a national focal point in each member state of the EU. A focal point is defined as OSHA’s official representative in that country, and these focal points are often the primary safety and health organization of a member state. Therefore, the focal point for OSHA in the UK is administered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

As a focal point for EU-OSHA in the UK, the HSE manages a tripartite network composed of three key bodies:

  • Governments
  • Employer representatives
  • Employee representatives

OSHA Directives & Campaigns

OSHA workplace safety information is influenced by input from this tripartite network. OSHA designs campaigns to raise awareness about workplace safety based on the information it collects from focal points throughout Europe and the focal points help to implement these campaigns in each member state.

OSHA helps to set EU directives, which set out minimum requirements for occupational safety in the European Union. The key thing for stakeholders to recognize about OSHA safety is that the information this agency provides is to raise awareness about occupational safety issues and define minimum requirements—actual health and safety laws in commercial workplaces are enforced by local authorities or by the HSE on an industrial scale, based on national legislative regulations such as COSHH.

On behalf of OSHA, the HSE in the UK organizes an annual workplace event known as the European Week for Safety and Health at Work. During this week in October each year, a slew of training sessions, conferences, and seminars are held to promote more awareness about important health and safety issues in the workplace.

Aside from the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, other OSHA activities include:

  • OiRA, which is an online risk management tool for managing health and safety risks in the workplace.
  • ESENER: a survey designed to gather information about how European workplaces manage occupational safety.
  • NAPO: a series of short films on workplace safety topics
  • OSHWiki: an online encyclopaedia on workplace safety.


COSHH Regulations

COSHH regulations set out general laws that businesses must follow in order to protect employees from chemical (and other substance) hazards in the workplace. Employees also must follow certain duties set out in the COSHH health and safety laws.

COSHH is a statutory instrument that defines the occupational safety laws of the U.K. In addition to aligning with EU directives on health and safety in the workplace, COSHH sets out the U.K’s own unique laws for hazardous substances in the workplace.

When businesses face a point of confusion over whether to follow OSHA or COSHH regulations in relation to chemical safety, the answer is COSHH. COSHH safety laws comply with EU directives so they automatically encompass all the minimum safety requirements advised by OSHA.

COSHH Assessments

All businesses that store or use hazardous chemicals are required to carry out a COSHH assessment. The COSHH assessment identifies the specific risks and hazards that exist in a given workplace due to storing or using particular substances in that workplace. The end result of such a risk assessment is that employers are made more aware of the chemical risks in their workplace and they are thus better positioned to take steps to mitigate those risks.

COSHH Requirements

Employee responsibilities under COSHH include:

  • Following the control measures for chemicals outlined by employers.
  • Following COSHH storage guidelines by ensuring equipment is stored correctly.
  • Reporting any possible problems or insufficiencies with existing workplace chemical control measures.

The terms “OSHA” and “COSHH” are both frequently referred to in documents and policies regarding chemical safety so it is no surprise that confuses arises. We hope this guide has helped you to develop a better understanding of the role that both OSHA and COSHH have to place in workplace safety

About Safety Storage Systems

Safety Storage Systems are a leading U.K. manufacturer of chemical safety and chemical storage solutions, helping both SMEs and multinationals across the U.K. to meet chemical storage compliance. MD Tom Considine is an established chemical safety expert with over 20 years industry experience and deep expertise in the manufacture of chemical safety solutions.