what is a hazard?

Workplace Hazards | Common Hazard Examples & 9 Tricks to Find Them!

Safeti School | Workplace Health and Safety
Safeti School | Workplace Health and Safety
Workplace Hazards | Common Hazard Examples & 9 Tricks to Find Them!

What is a Hazard?

When we ask ‘what is a hazard?’ in relation to occupational safety and health (OSH), the most commonly used definition is –

A Hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a person or persons’.

In this post, we are going to take a look at examples of workplace hazards that are common across different industries.

We’ll then take a look at how you might go about identifying hazards in the workplace. If you are confused about hazard symbols, don’t worry, we’ve covered that for you here too.

We’ll wrap things up by giving you some context for then assessing the risks in your business and how it links to health and safety risk assessment.

How to Identify Hazards

When you work in a place everyday it is very easy to overlook some hazards (you grow a set of blinkers!). So here are some tips to help you identify the hazards that matter:

Workplace Hazards
  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in spelling out the operating risks and what precautions you should take
  • Look back at your accident and ill-health records – these often help to identify the less obvious hazards or risk hotspots in your business
  • Take account of non-routine operations (eg maintenance, cleaning operations or changes in production cycles)

Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (e.g. high levels of noise, exposure to harmful substances, common causes of work-related mental ill health)

If you would like more sure-fire ways to identify hazards in the workplace, jump to 9.21mins in our Risk Assessment Training video >>>>>>>>>>>>>

Examples of Hazards in the Workplace

Safety or health hazards can present unsafe working conditions that that can may cause injury or illness. It can be hard to identify hazards in a working environment.

They can take many different forms and include:

  • Slips and Trips: single biggest cause of injury at work (29% of workplace injuries in UK, HSE 2018). Caused by poor housekeeping, unsuitable footwear, insufficient maintenance
  • Manual Handling: in some sectors, the use of bodily force to move or lift object is the most common cause of injury
  • Working from Height: falls from height are one of the major causes of workplace fatalities. Includes ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or any raised work area
  • Lifting Operations: include being struck by a falling load, overturning or people falling from height. This is covered by LOLER regulations in the UK and includes excavators, forklifts, cranes, MEWP’s, tail lifts, passenger/goods lifts etc.
  • Pressure Vessels: hazard of stored energy as a result of the failure of a pressure system
  • Workplace Plant and Equipment: equipment must be suitable for the intended use and maintained in a safe condition. This covered by the PUWER regulations in the UK
  • Electricity: present most work environments, electricity presents high hazard potential
  • Fire Safety: fire hazards exist in most workplaces and the consequences can be very severe
  • Chemicals and Substances: we can identify potentially harmful chemicals or substances through the use of COSHH assessment and recognition of hazard symbols
  • Workplace Transport: the risk of injury from moving vehicles is present in almost all workplace

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Hazard Categories

Still having trouble thinking about ‘what is a hazard?’ hazard in your workplace?

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the broader hazard categories that are used when asking ‘what is a hazard?’. This should help us understand how widespread they can be across any organisation……

Physical Hazards:

Physical and/or environmental hazards cover a whole range of elements and conditions within the workplace. Something to remember is that they may cause harm to the human body with or without actually touching it.

Here are just some examples…..

Workplace Hazards
  • Workplace Plant and Equipment: the operation of machinery can present a myriad of hazards and potential for direct physical contact
  • Working at Height: conducting work at above ground level creates the potential for falls from height, and associated risk of severe or fatal injury
  • Noise: loud work environments can cause irreversible damage to hearing e.g. construction sector
  • Dust: silica, asbestos and wood dust can all be very harmful to the human body if not managed correctly
  • Vibration: ill-health caused due the use of vibrating equipment e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Radiation: including ionizing, non-ionizing (EMF’s, microwaves, radio waves, etc.)
  • Environmental exposure: suitability of working environment should be considered for welfare e.g. temperature extremes, humidity, air quality

Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards are present when a worker is exposed or potentially exposed to any chemical material or preparation in the workplace in any form (solid, liquid or gas). 

The level of harm that can be caused by a chemical varies widely, so you must interpret how it will interact with the work process and workers.

welding hazards Risk Assessment

It is important to note that some workers may be more sensitive to certain chemicals, that’s where a thorough COSHH assessment can be highly valuable. Even common solutions can cause severe illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems for specific people.

Here are some examples that would be classed as Chemical Hazards in the workplace (covered by COSHH Regulations in the UK):

  • Liquids – cleaning products, paints, acids, solvents – always make sure chemicals are labelled correctly.
  • Vapors and fumes – from welding, soldering or exposure to solvents, for example.
  • Gases – acetylene, propane, carbon monoxide and helium – they may have very different properties e.g. be an asphyxiant, highly toxic or explosive.

You can download some of our free COSHH templates here if you need them.

Biological Hazards:

Biological hazards include exposure to harm or disease associated with working with animals, people, or infectious plant materials. Workplaces with these kinds of hazards include, but are not limited to, work in schools, day care facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals, laboratories, emergency response, nursing homes, or various outdoor occupations.

covid 19 risk assessment template

Biological hazards would include the following:

  • Blood and other body fluids – hepatitis, HIV etc. risk to medical staff, first responders, first aiders
  • Fungi/mold
  • Bacteria and viruses – legionella, leptospira, COVID-19
  • Animal and bird droppings

Ergonomic Hazards

ergonomic hazards

Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work, body positions, and working conditions put a strain on your body.  They are the hardest to spot since you don’t always immediately notice the strain on your body or the harm that these hazards pose. 

Short-term exposure may result in “sore muscles” the next day or in the days following the exposure, but long-term exposure can result in serious long-term illness.

Ergonomic hazards in the workplace can include:

  • Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs
  • Frequent lifting (manual handling)
  • Poor working posture
  • Awkward and/or  repetitive
  • Requiring too much force (frequently)
ergo hazards

Organisational Hazards

organisational hazards

These are hazards or stressors that cause stress (short-term effects) and strain (long-term effects) to employees during the course of their work.

Organisational hazards can affect wellbeing/mental health, productivity and even physical health and are typically associated with how a company operates. Examples of such hazards include the following:

  • Unreasonable workloads: causes approx. 44% of workplace mental health issues
  • Workplace bullying/acts of violence: 7% of injuries in work caused by acts of violence (HSE UK, 2018)
  • The intensity and/or pace of work/time pressure
  • Respect (or lack thereof)
  • Level of autonomy/responsibility to make decisions
  • Social support or relations
  • Sexual harassment

As you can see, when determining what is a hazard in the workplace, there is a lot that you may need to consider! It’s important to note that although a hazard may be present, it might not present any risk.

Hazard Symbols and Meanings

If you are dealing with substances which may be hazardous to health, it would be useful to get familiar with the globally standardised hazard symbols. 

Hazard symbols or pictograms alert us to the presence of a hazardous chemical or substance. 

The symbols help us to recognise that the chemicals we are using might cause harm to people or the environment.

The CLP hazard pictograms are very similar to those used in the old labelling system and appear in the shape of a diamond with a distinctive red border and white background.  One or more pictograms might appear on the labelling of a single chemical.

flammable hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Extremely flammable gas, Flammable gas, Extremely flammable aerosol, Flammable aerosol, Highly flammable liquid and vapour, Flammable liquid and vapour, Flammable solid EXAMPLES: Lamp oil, petrol, nail polish remover

irritant hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? May cause OR does cause various conditions, such as, respiratory irritation, drowsiness or dizziness, allergic skin reaction, serious eye or skin irritation Harmful if swallowed, in contact with skin etc. EXAMPLES: Washing detergents, toilet cleaner, coolant fluid

toxic hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? The substance can be toxic/fatal if swallowed, in contact with skin or if inhaled EXAMPLES: Pesticide, biocide, methanol

coshh symbol
Environmental Hazard

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects EXAMPLES: Pesticides, biocides, petrol, turpentine

corrosives hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? May be corrosive to metals Causes severe skin burns and eye damage EXAMPLES: Drain cleaners, acetic acid, hydrochloric acid, ammoniac

oxidising hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? May cause or intensify fire; oxidiser. May cause fire or explosion; strong oxidiser. EXAMPLES: Bleach, oxygen for medical purposes

health and safety at work act
Serious Health Hazard

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways, causes damage to organs, may damage fertility or the unborn child, may/suspected of cause cancer or genetic defects EXAMPLES: Turpentine, petrol, lamp oil

explosive hazard symbol

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Substance may be any of following: an unstable explosive, mass explosion hazard, severe projection hazard, fire, blast or projection hazard, may mass explode in fire. EXAMPLES: Fireworks, ammunition

compressed gas hazard symbol
Gas Under Pressure

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated. Contains refrigerated gas; may cause cryogenic burns or injury. EXAMPLES: Gas containers, cylinders, air conditioning unit

What are the Hazards in your Business?

That’s it for this helpful resource on Workplace Hazards. We hope it has helped you answer the question ‘what is a hazard?’, grasp the importance of identifying what may cause harm and then deciding whether or not the hazards pose a risk.

Let us know which hazards you would like to learn more about by leaving us a comment below!

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