Every workplace inevitably poses some health and safety hazards, ranging from common physical risks such as slips and trips to potential exposure to harmful chemical or biological agents. To effectively manage these hazards, it is important to first identify them and then have health and safety professionals suggest a course of action to eliminate them or, at the very least, reduce their impact.
Types of Workplace Hazards
Workplace hazards are not just about immediate injuries; some of them can quietly affect our health over time. Understanding these risks is the key to keeping everyone safe.
Here are five types of workplace hazards you should know about:
1. Chemical Hazards
Contrary to common belief, chemical hazards exist in every workplace, not solely in the construction and manufacturing industries. Any activity that exposes workers to chemicals in the workplace constitutes a chemical hazard.
Here are some examples of such activities:
- Spraying pesticides
- Exposure to vapors and fumes from gasoline, solvents, or welding
- Short- or long-term asbestos exposure
- Handling cleaning products, acids, and paints stored in unlabeled containers
Among these examples, asbestos exposure is particularly serious. Even a few days of exposure comes with the risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma.
Military personnel, in particular, face significant levels of asbestos exposure. If you are a veteran and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s important to stay informed and get all the financial help you can. You can look up mesothelioma veterans to learn more about the VA benefits you are eligible for in your treatment.
2. Biological Hazards
As the name suggests, biological hazards are caused by biological elements and substances, such as plants, animals, and other humans. Many workplaces, such as hospitals, labs, nursing homes, and botanical labs, deal with high levels of these hazards.
Some examples include:
- Inhaling in an environment with fungi and mold
- Working in pest control services
- Handling patients with infectious diseases
- Exposure to viruses and bacteria from animals
- Zoonotic exposures, such as animal bites, stings, and scratches when working in animal services
3. Physical Hazards
Contrary to their name, physical hazards aren’t always evident. For example, prolonged exposure to loud noise can harm auditory senses, while extreme temperatures can scald human skin. Some of these hazards result in immediate injuries, while others may have long-term effects on health.
Common physical hazards in the workplace include:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise or sunlight
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays
- Radiation exposure
- Extreme temperatures, either cold or hot
4. Ergonomic Hazards
Ergonomic hazards are those that place strain on the body. While their effects may not be immediate, they can lead to serious, long-term issues such as muscular or skeletal disorders.
Examples of ergonomic hazards include:
- Poor posture leading to skeletal problems
- Repetitive movements, such as the wrist position while using a keyboard/mouse (which can cause carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Regular lifting of heavy objects
- Frequent use of force, such as pushing or pulling on chains
- Excessive exposure to vibrations
- Improper height of workstations
5. General Safety Hazards
In addition to the four types of hazards mentioned earlier, there are other general safety hazards that contribute to an unsafe workplace.
One of the most pervasive general safety hazards, found almost everywhere, is the risk of tripping, slipping, and falling. According to the National Safety Council, in 2020, 42,114 people lost their lives due to falls at home and work, and an additional 211,640 individuals were injured from falls, resulting in time off work.
Here are some general safety hazards in the workplace that require attention:
- Trips caused by cords across the floor
- Slips caused by water or ice
- Working at heights poses a risk of falling
- Moving parts of machinery, such as belts and chains
- Electrical hazards, including sparking from improper wiring and connections
- Smoke and gas in confined spaces
How to Control Different Types of Hazards in the Workplace?
Workplaces vary in the types of hazards they present, with some being more prevalent than others depending on the nature of the work. For example, construction sites carry a higher risk of falling and tripping, while military service involves elevated levels of chemical and physical hazards.
Given the diversity of workplaces and hazard types, different control measures are necessary. Here are some examples of workplace hazards and the corresponding control measures:
Falling Hazards in a Construction Site
- Utilize scaffolding structures instead of ladders
- Implement safety nets as a secondary layer of protection
- Employ personal fall arrest systems, such as harnesses and lanyards
- Install guardrails on elevated work platforms to prevent accidental falls
Chemical Hazards in a Laboratory
- Substitute hazardous chemicals with less harmful alternatives when possible
- Install ventilation systems and fume hoods for managing hazardous fumes and gases
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) like gloves, safety goggles, and respirators for lab workers
- Ensure proper labeling of all chemicals with adequate ventilation and segregation to prevent accidental mixing
Fire Hazards in an Office Building or Factory
- Install fire alarms and appropriate extinguishers
- Train staff on proper extinguisher use
- Develop and communicate a clear emergency evacuation plan and conduct regular fire drills
- Use fire-resistant building materials for walls, doors, and ceilings to impede the spread of fires
- Regularly inspect and maintain electrical systems to prevent electrical fires
Noise Hazards in a Manufacturing Plant
- Install noise barriers or soundproofing materials to minimize noise levels
- Maintain and repair machinery to reduce noise emissions
- Supply workers with suitable hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs
- Conduct regular assessments of noise levels to ensure the effectiveness of noise control measures
Biological Hazards in a Healthcare Facility
- Implement infection control measures, including hand-washing, sanitizing, and the use of PPEs like gowns, gloves, and respiratory masks
- Establish vaccination programs for healthcare facility workers
Electrical and Moving Parts Hazards in a Manufacturing Plant
- Provide electrical safety and machine safety training for workers
- Enforce proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures for machine maintenance
- Install safety rails and guardrails around machinery
- Ensure proper wiring and maintenance of electrical systems
Workplaces can pose various health and safety hazards, and the key to managing them is recognizing their specific nature. This article has highlighted five common types of workplace health and safety hazards that everyone should be mindful of, emphasizing the collective responsibility we all share for ensuring a safe working environment.
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