What Does “Hazard” Mean?
In regards to the workplace, a hazard is any source of potential danger or harm. If there is any chance that something in the workplace can cause harm or adverse effects on you or the people around it, then it is considered a hazard. It is possible as well that certain practices or conditions may release uncontrolled energy that can harm you or your fellow employees.
Safety is the Word
Hazards are the reason that safety should be the number one priority of every workplace. OSHA has established standards and regulations to protect employees’ rights and obligate employers to protect their employees from harm.
Getting trained will prepare you for workplace hazards by making you aware of what hazards you may face. Safety training will teach you safety practices that follow OSHA standards and guidelines. These trainings will be your best guide to mitigate hazards in the workplace. In this article, however, we will cover a basic understanding of how to recognize and assess workplace hazards.
What Counts as Hazardous?
OSHA breaks down workplace hazards into six distinct categories. The many different workplace hazards can be placed into one of these categories to help you understand the kind of effects that they have. They are as follows:
- Safety Hazards – This category covers the most common and universally present hazards in the workplace. These include mostly conditions such as tripping on cords, slipping on spills, unguarded electrical wiring and machinery, or confined spaces.
- Physical Hazards – Although these may seem similar to safety hazards, physical hazards cover more of the hazardous exposure that may be present in the workplace. These could include hazards such as radiation, extreme weather conditions, and exposure to loud noise.
- Chemical Hazards – This is probably the most self-explanatory type of hazard. Chemical hazards refer to a chemical agent in any form (gas, liquid, or solid) that can cause illness or harm. Such hazards can be uncommon chemicals that are potent and highly dangerous. However, they could also include common chemicals that are just as harmful, such as cleaning products like bleach. Vapors and fumes are also a chemical hazard concern because they can cause breathing problems, flammability, or skin irritation as well as illness.
- Biological Hazards – This category covers any type of hazard that stems from bacteria or other living beings. Exposure to blood or bodily fluids, animal or insect bites, and even plants or fungus are considered biological hazards.
- Ergonomic Hazards – These hazards can be hard to notice right away because the effects they have sometimes only happen over long periods of time. Ergonomic hazards refer to any type of physical strain certain activities or positions cause to your body. Ergonomic hazards can include frequent or heavy lifting, poor posture, awkward and repetitive actions, or vibration.
- Work Organization Hazards – Work organization hazards refer to stressors that cause short and long-term stress and/or strain on employees. These hazards can include workload demands, workplace violence, lack of respect, social relationships in the workplace, and sexual harassment.
Adverse Health Effects Caused By Hazards
Understanding what is hazardous can sometimes be answered easily by defining what the effects are. If a certain element or practice in the workplace causes an adverse health effect, physical or mental, then it is considered to be a hazard. Some of these adverse effects include but are not limited to:
- Chronic illness
- Shock or electrocution
- Anxiety or depression
- Fear or discomfort
Some of these effects are more obvious than others. Any of these effects, and others not listed, can be placed into one of the six categories of workplace hazards.
Common Workplace Hazards
There are certain hazards that have more extensive regulations due to a large number of injuries and fatalities they cause. Understanding what some of these common hazards are will give you an idea of how serious a simple hazard can be, and the need to receive safety training. These include but are not limited to:
- Falling/Working at Heights – Many industries are associated with the risk of falling from heights, which explains why it is the number one cause of work-related fatalities. Many employees have died or been injured because they did not wear proper fall protection or follow standard procedures for ensuring a safe work environment.
- Respiratory Hazards – It is not uncommon for many industries to have some kind of particles or fumes that workers are exposed to on a daily basis. Without proper respiratory protection, employees are at risk of contracting serious illnesses.
- Lack of Hazard Communication – Many accidents occur with operating heavy machinery due to a lack of communication. For example, most construction vehicles require a spotter; someone who watches the machine while another operates it. The spotter needs to communicate hazards around the operator, such as power lines that can cause electrocution. Without employees who know how to communicate these hazards, injury and death is far more likely to occur.
- Powered Industrial Trucks – Large powerful trucks are a significant hazard due to their size and strength. These vehicles cause many accidents due to lack of communication, failure to follow proper operating procedures and pre-shift inspections, and more.
- Machine Guarding – Heavy machinery used to perform heavy lifting or processing can be extremely dangerous and need proper guarding. These machines can cause serious abrasions, amputations, and death if not handled properly.
- Confined Spaces – Many industries deal with confined spaces, which are any tight spaces that a person can fit in. Many confined spaces are hazardous because they can possibly become stuck in them or breathe in hazardous fumes there. Without following proper procedures outlined in safety training, accidents occur.
As you can see, a lot of the measures needed to prevent injury and illness when working with these hazards are as simple as proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety training. Proper risk assessment will also help prepare you for handling these hazards beforehand.
Training for Hazards
The most important part of training for hazards is to be aware of them. Most construction workers are probably aware of the danger of excessive force that comes from operating a jackhammer. What they may not be aware of when operating a jackhammer though, is the hazard of vibration which, with prolonged exposure, can cause Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS).
Proper training can help you avoid all kinds of hazards in the workplace. Continuing with the example of jackhammer hazards, training to avoid vibration hazards will include holding the jackhammer loosely but securely, taking breaks, and keeping your hands warm. This is information that otherwise would be unknown to most employees that operate jackhammers.
It may seem like some training for hazards is self-explanatory, but you can always gain more from safety training no matter what your level of experience is. Training is not always required but is always strongly recommended.
Safety Provision’s safety training topics catalog, provides extensive courses and materials for safety training and preparation against workplace hazards.
Know Risk Assessment Like You Know English
Risk Assessment is the process of identifying potential workplace hazards and the effects that they might have on the employees. Although it is primarily the responsibility of the employer to implement a Safety Management System (SMS), employees can also practice the steps of risk assessment in an SMS to make the workplace safer.
Risk assessment looks at the adverse effects and impact that they will have on the company or business. Becoming familiar with the practices of risk assessment will be critical to recognizing workplace hazards and reducing injury and illness. The purpose of risk assessment is not just to learn how to handle emergencies, but to make safety behavior a natural occurrence in your workplace.
Some of the important steps of risk assessment include:
- Reviewing all resources and information about the hazards that are currently in the workplace such as instruction manuals and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
- Conduct regular inspections of the workplace to look for potential hazards, deficiencies, or risks. Checklists of common hazards can be useful tools for identifying hazards to look for.
- Identify trends in resources such as incident reports of previous workplace injuries, illnesseses, and close calls to determine what hazards have not been properly addressed yet. Consider all six categories of hazards when assessing the effects of practices or exposure within the workplace.
- Determine how serious and likely these incidents or potential hazards are and plan how to use this information to implement corrective controls.
Risk assessment may need to be conducted differently depending on your environment. Each workplace is unique and varies in size and number of employees. Even so, nothing should be discounted from the risk assessment process. Be sure to inspect all areas, even low-hazard ones such as storage areas, lobbies, and bathrooms.
If you are an employer, remember that employee input is also a helpful resource for the process of identifying and resolving hazards. Their experience will be useful in determining workplace hazards and appropriate controls to correct them. As an employee, make sure to express safety concerns, suggest ways that hazards can be handled, and how accidents can be prevented.
At Safety Provisions, we provide Risk Assessment Training & Certification as well to help you understand and implement this process in your workplace.
The methods for controlling hazards and creating safer work conditions can be implemented with one of the five following controls. They rank in order of most effective to least effective.
- Elimination: Completely removing the hazard from the workplace or locating it somewhere where it cannot negatively affect the employees.
- Substitution: Replace the hazard with something more safe and reliable.
- Engineering controls: Isolating people from the hazard by making a physical change to the workplace.
- Administrative controls: Changing the procedures that employees use to interact with the hazard.
- Personal protective equipment: Use of PPE to protect the employees from hazards.
After risk assessment, you should consider these controls when working to correct the workplace hazards that are found by the employer or employees.
Benefits of Effective Risk Assessment
Effective risk assessment leads to a workplace culture based on safety. When employers and employees take upon themselves the process of avidly looking for workplace hazards and addressing them with appropriate controls, everyone benefits. As an employer or employee, your role in the process is essential and will create safer conditions in your workplace.
Risk assessment will also continually allow employers to keep their workplace compliant with OSHA standards and regulations more easily. There will be less room for error with effective risk assessment and no need to fear fines or penalties from spontaneous OSHA inspections.
Continual Risk Assessment in the Workplace
The process of risk assessment is not something intended to be done just once. It is a process that needs to be done regularly. Hazards may change or new hazards may appear in any workplace and such conditions will need to be addressed as soon as possible. If you always implement proper risk assessment and recognition of hazards, then these issues can be resolved as soon as they occur so that you make the safest workplace possible.