Expert Collaboration: Breaking Language Barriers and Leading the way In COSHH Management across the Food and Drink, Processing, & Packaging Industry

Communication is key in relaying messages to each other; however, with the multicultural society within modern workplaces, language barriers, especially written communication can create unforeseen confusion. Specifically in terms of risk assessments, this could potentially lead to an accident and/or injury. Alcumus’ Technical Account Manager, Rob Wilkes, explains why and how the use of pictorial information and various languages within the COSHH risk assessment process can reduce the risk of injury and accidents occurring.

The COSHH regulations require employers to prevent or reduce worker exposure to hazardous substances; this is done through a COSHH risk assessment and the implementation of suitable control measures. One of the major factors that can affect how these controls are implemented is communication. With most documentation, especially risk assessment, information is usually written down in a way where the person reading it is assumed to have a high level of literacy. However, how do you ensure this information is fully understood if English is not the operative’s first language? Or they have a low level of literacy? In these situations, a plan to overcome these hurdles must be devised.

The consequences of non-compliance

This is of significant concern as the cost of not complying with the COSHH Regulations is on the rise. Aside from the moral obligation, companies must protect their staff and the environment. Changes to health & safety sentencing guidelines introduced last year mean that businesses can now face significant fines and prison sentences, not just for causing actual harm but also for creating a risk of harm. In addition, there is evidence that health & safety inspectors are increasingly identifying incidents where companies have created inadequate risk assessments and are readily raising improvement and prohibition notices.  These changes have huge implications for any businesses operating in high risk environments, including those in the food and drink sector.

A baker has been the subject of the HSE’s first proactive prosecution for failing to protect workers from exposure to flour dust.

Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court heard that the HSE visited Honeytop Speciality Foods Ltd’s Dunstable factory in November 2009 to investigate an incident where a worker had fallen from a ladder.

During the investigation the inspector Emma Rowlands identified a number of other safety risks at the bakery, which manufactures a range of tortillas, crumpets and naan breads. She returned to the factory in February 2010 and with the help of experts from the Health and Safety Laboratory identified that workers were being exposed to six times the legal limit of flour dust.

The inspector discovered that the bakery had no control measures in place to extract the dust, which can cause occupational asthma, and workers were sweeping it away with brooms rather than using vacuums. Employees had been issued facemasks but had not been trained in how to wear them, and, as a result, many were wearing them upside down.[i]

From the evidence presented, it is essential that companies ensure that their operatives have suitable and sufficient COSHH risk assessments in place, use sufficient control measures and are fully trained in their use and maintenance. Thankfully, the engagement of management software systems can simplify this process significantly and, as they continue to improve in terms of usability and affordability they are becoming ever more accessible.


The Alcumus COSHH system for example, helps users identify, assess and manage hazardous substances in the workplace, and walks them through the process of completing and delivering fully compliant, task-based COSHH risk assessments. Through the simple Alcumus COSHH interface which is available to companies of all sizes – from a small contractor in need of 10 COSHH assessments to a larger company requiring 5000 – an employer or employee can easily and quickly obtain a compliant COSHH assessment. These assessments are provided in an easy-to-follow format with pictograms led by international standards that ensure the document is simple to interpret and ensures ownership.

The Solution to Language Barriers

One of the major selling points with the Alcumus COSHH system is the uniform assessment output it creates. The Alcumus COSHH summary sheet is the operative focused section of the Alcumus COSHH assessment; it combines clear pictorial control measures with short simple statements designed to be easy to understand for operatives while still conveying all the necessary information. Below in Figure 1 is an example of the Alcumus COSHH control measures:


Notes to editors

Alcumus is the UK’s market-leading provider of technology-enabled business assurance and compliance risk management solutions, supporting both UK and International with a wide range of risk management services, including web based information management solutions, UKAS accredited certification services, contractor accreditation, health & safety inspection and consultancy, workplace monitoring services, training and HR consultancy.

Additional Information/ Press Contact:

Charlotte Dove – or 01483 414751

T: 01296 678464



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