what is a hazard?

What is a Hazard? Examples of Hazards & 10 Ways to Spot them!

What is a Hazard? Examples of Hazards & 10 Ways to Spot them!
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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 assessing what is a hazard in your business and how it links to health and safety risk assessment.

Health and safety at work act

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 (31% of workplace injuries in UK, HSE 2018). Caused by poor housekeeping, unsuitable footwear, insufficient maintenance
  • Working from Height: one of the major causes of workplace fatalities. Includes ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or any raised work area
  • Lifting Operations: hazards 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: hazards exist in most workplaces and the consequences can be very severe
  • Workplace Transport: the risk of injury from moving vehicles is present in almost all workplace

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:

  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards 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)

SIgnage Health and Safety

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 surefire ways to identify hazards in the workplace, watch our video or have a listen to our podcast below.

Need some additional support?

Taking on responsibility for Health & Safety within a business can be stressful and time-intensive. That’s where Safeti’s support services may be able to help – 

  1. Competent Person We provide a flexible, retained Health and Safety competent person service, acting as your designated Health, Safety & Environmental representative.
  2. Partnering We can provide a range of flexible HSE & Media support services that compliment your existing resources and that can be tailored to your business objectives.
  3. Training We develop and deliver our own in-house HSE workshops and online training courses – making sure they closely meet the needs of your audience.

To find out more about Safeti’s Health and Safety Competent Person package, please contact us using the form below or via info@safeti.com.

health and safety competent person service

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/Environmental Hazards:

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

Here are just some examples…..

  • 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:

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.

Also, as some workers may be more sensitive to certain chemicals, even common solutions can cause illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems.

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

  • Liquids like 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 like acetylene, propane, carbon monoxide and helium – may be an asphyxiant, toxic or explosive

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.

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
  • Animal and bird droppings

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 inlcude:

  • Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs
  • Frequent lifting (manual handling)
  • Poor posture
  • Awkward movements, especially if they are repetitive
  • Having to use too much force, especially if you have to do it frequently
  • Vibration

Organisational Hazards:

Hazards or stressors that cause stress (short-term effects) and strain (long-term effects).  These are hazards associated with how the company operates and include:

  • 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.

FREE Risk Assessment Course

We’ve created an Approved instructor-led, online course for Risk Assessment. Join us for a step-by-step, interactive tutorial & challenges to give your team the confidence to carry out Risk Assessment. Try out the sample Modules here!

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Play Video

What is a Hazard - Hazard Symbols

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 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 INDICATE? 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 INDICATE? 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 INDICATE? 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

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

Can you identify the Hazards?

If you are new to risk assessment, we recommend that you take a look at our Risk Assessment – Beginner’s Guide resource.

It may help to watch our ‘What is risk assessment’ video below as an introduction…

OK, by this stage you should be a bit more confident when trying to figure out what is a hazard, and what is not. That leaves us with the next important question, what is a risk?

What is a Risk?

Now we know how to determine what is a hazard and what is not, we need to figure out which hazards pose a risk to our employees.

When we refer to risk in relation to occupational safety and health the most commonly used definition is ‘risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or suffers adverse health effects if exposed to a hazard.’

It’s as simple as that. In other words, a hazard may exist but it does not need to present a risk to people or property.

We explain the difference between hazard and risk further in our animated video below…

Risk Assessment is where the severity of the Hazard and its potential outcomes are considered in conjunction with other factors including the level of exposure and the numbers of persons exposed and the risk of that hazard being realised.

There are a number of different formulae used to calculate the overall risk from basic calculations using high, medium and low categories to complicated algorithms to calculate risks at Nuclear power stations and other high risk work locations.

It is important to ensure that the residual risk following implementation of control measures is ‘as low as is reasonably possible’ (ALARP).

For a risk to be ‘ALARP’, it must be possible to demonstrate that the cost involved in reducing the risk further would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit gained.

Categorising Risk

The level of risk is often categorised upon the potential harm or adverse health effect that the hazard may cause, the number of times persons are exposed and the number of persons exposed.

For example exposure to airborne asbestos fibres will always be classified as high because a single exposure may cause potentially fatal lung disease.

Whereas the risk associated with using a display screen for a short period could be considered to be very low as the potential harm or adverse health effects are minimal.

What are ‘Control Measures’?

Control measures include actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard, or the control measure could be to remove the hazard or to reduce the likelihood of the risk of the exposure to that hazard being realised.

A simple control measure would be the secure guarding of moving parts of machinery eliminating the potential for contact.

When we look at control measures we often refer to the hierarchy of control measures. If you’d like to find out more on the process of choosing control measures, listen to our podcast below.

hierarchy of controls

What is a hazard in your business?

We hope this resource has helped you answer the question ‘what is a hazard?’, grasp the importance of identifying hazards and then deciding whether they pose a risk. If you would like to know more about risk assessment, check out our post here.

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Richard Collins