You don’t have to be a health and safety expert to assess the risks in your workplace. Still, if you want to arrive at useful conclusions, you need to equip yourself with some basic knowledge. The most crucial thing is to know how to identify hazards.
Some hazards pose an imminent danger, others become apparent only after some time.
Moreover, not all kinds of hazards can be completely eliminated. These must be controlled.
If all of this sounds a bit boring and abstract to you, bear with me. I’m going to explain it all on an exciting example of a lava lake.
Before we go any further, let’s get the terminology right.
- A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemical, machines, electricity, ladders, etc.
- A risk is the chance, whether high or low, that somebody could be harmed by hazards, together with an indication how serious the harm could be.
- A harm includes death, injury, illnesses (including mental ones) or disease that may be suffered by a person from a hazard.
- A control — a system which is in place in order to eliminate harm.
For instance, if your work requires to have a lava lake in your workplace for some reason, the lava lake represents a hazard. The risk is the chance that someone falls into the lava lake. A harm is the natural consequence of that person dying a horrible death. Finally, a control is the railing you install around the lava lake once you’ve identified it as a hazard.
Sure, this is an absurd example. Most safety hazards are not so easy to spot and you might even think your workplace is relatively free from hazards. But then someone dies in a terrible lava lake accident and you realise you could have easily prevented if you only identified the hazard sooner.
5 Types of Workplace Hazards
Notice how the whole process of eliminating risks starts with identifying hazards. It’s crucial that you know where to look for them. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the list below.
1. Physical hazards
These are the most common hazards and can be present in all kinds of workplaces. They can harm the body even without necessarily touching it.
- Frayed electrical cords
- Unguarded machinery
- Constant loud noise
2. Biological hazards
These include any exposure to harm or disease related to working with people, animals, or infectious biological materials. Workplaces with these kinds of hazards include, for example, hospitals, laboratories, nursing homes, emergency, schools, etc.
- Bacteria and viruses
- Fungi and mold
- Blood, saliva, and other body fluids
- Insects bites
- Animal droppings
3. Ergonomic hazards
Occur when the type of work, body positions and work conditions put a strain on your body. They are difficult to spot, since their effects only become apparent after a longer period of time. What starts as a sore back after spending a day in the office can result in severe scoliosis over time.
- Improperly set up workstations and chairs
- Frequent heavy lifting
- Poot posture
- Awkward repetitive movements
- Poor lighting
4. Chemical hazards
As the name implies, these hazards are present when a worker comes into contact with a chemical solution in any form — be it solid, gas, or liquid. Some are less damaging than other but to some workers even common chemicals can cause illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems.
- Cleaning products, paints, acids
- Vapours and dangerous fumes
- Gases like propane, acetylene, carbon monoxide
- Flammable chemicals
5. Work organisation hazards
Hazards associated with the human aspect of work. These mostly arise from:
- Workplace demands
- Workplace violence
- Intensity or pace
- Social support or relations
- Sexual harassment
Poor work practices create hazards
Sure, all of the above sounds pretty straightforward. However, things can get really tricky once you realise that majority of work hazards is created by employers themselves.
It’s a real nightmare, employers make hazards pop up all over the place, all the time.
- Using machinery or tools without authority
- Defective tools or equipment
- Using tools or equipment in unsafe ways
- Standing or working under suspended loads, scaffolds, shafts, or open hatches
- Failing to use personal protective equipment or safety devices
- Overloading, crowding or failing to balance materials
- Repairing or adjusting equipment that is in motion, under pressure, or electrically charged
- Working alone or without a proper tracking equipment
Moreover, hazards created by employers are almost impossible to predict. Even if you have all controlling measures perfectly set up and in place, it’s always just a matter of time before someone finds a creative way to circumvent them and get hurt.
To quote the Interstellar’s tautological wisdom:
“Whatever can happen, will.”
In those cases it’s important to have procedures in place to help the victim quickly. At the same time, every incident is an opportunity to improve your safety practices.