Safety Hazards in the Workplace: Definition, Types and More

Before his morning shift, 62-year-old Jose Melena entered a 35-foot-long industrial oven to do maintenance work. His co-worker spotted the unused pallet jacket Melena left outside the oven, so he mistakenly thought he was just on a bathroom break, but he was mistaken.

The co-worker then filled the oven with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and turned it on. With the temperature reaching 270 degrees, Jose Melena was burned to death. 

This horrific tragedy could have been avoided if safety protocols in the workplace were not overlooked. Had the company implemented specific procedures for entering confined spaces and a mandatory shut-down process for machinery during maintenance, Melena’s life would have been spared.

This is why identifying safety hazards in the workplace, at home and even in public places can save lives.

When you know the risks and take steps to mitigate them, you prevent accidents and keep yourself and others safe. Whether you’re taking advantage of industrial paramedicine solutions or first aid training, you’re equipping your workforce with the knowledge and resources to act decisively in an emergency.

In this article, we discuss the six types of safety hazards in the workplace and how you can identify & mitigate them to build a safer work environment.

Defining Safety Hazards

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a safety hazard refers to any potential source of harm, injury or illness on objects and individuals. For example, workers in construction might face dangers from machinery, while office workers might face ergonomic hazards from poorly designed workstations.

The Difference Between a Hazard and a Risk

While hazards and risks are closely related terms, they refer to different aspects of potential harm.

Anything that has the potential to cause harm, be it an injury or illness, is considered a hazard. This includes physical objects, chemicals, a biological agent or even certain situations and conditions. Hazards are everywhere, from construction zones to the roads we travel daily.

On the other hand, a risk considers the likelihood of that harm actually occurring and the severity of the consequences. It’s a combination of two factors:

  1. Probability: How likely is it that someone will be exposed to the hazard and be harmed?
  2. Severity: How serious could the injury or illness be if the hazard does cause harm?

Let’s give you an analogy. A cluttered office floor has loose cables and wires lying everywhere (hazard). The risk is the likelihood of someone tripping over the wires and getting hurt. The severity of the injury would also depend on the risk:

  • Low risk: The cables are flat and easy to see, and the floor is clear of obstacles. Someone might slightly stumble but avoid a fall.
  • High risk: The cables are thick and bundled. Papers or other items are scattered around the cables, making them even harder to see. A trip over these cables could cause a serious fall with the potential for broken bones or sprains.

6 Types of Safety Hazards In The Workplace

Safety hazards in the workplace come in many forms, and employers and employees alike need to recognise and address them to maintain a safe working environment. Here, we’ll explore the six main categories you need to be aware of:

Work Safety Hazards

Workplace safety hazards are the most common causes of occupational injuries, illnesses and deaths. While some hazards are common across all workplaces, specific roles come with specific dangers. 

Here are some examples of work safety hazards:

  • Spills or obstacles on floors, such as blocked aisles or cords lying across pathways;
  • Machinery lacking appropriate guards or with moving parts exposed, increasing the risk of accidental contact by workers;
  • Working from heights such as roofs, scaffolds, ladders and any elevated working environment;
  • Electrical dangers like faulty wiring, frayed cords and missing ground pins;
  • Entering confined spaces;
  • Risks when using equipment and machinery like power tools, forklifts and boiler safety, among others.

Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards mainly exist for workers who come into contact with chemicals in any form—solid, liquid or gas. This includes professionals who are involved in the preparation, shipping, manufacturing, packaging or handling of chemical substances. This is why most workplaces are required to keep a list of all the chemicals they have on-site. 

Hazardous chemicals include:

  • Liquids: This includes common items like cleaning products, paints, acids and solvents.
  • Airborne chemicals: These can be vapours, fumes or dust from activities like welding, working with asbestos, using solvents or interior construction.
  • Gases: These can include acetylene, propane, carbon monoxide and even seemingly harmless ones like helium.
  • Flammable materials: Gasoline, solvents and explosive chemicals all pose a fire risk.
  • Pesticides: These can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin or even ingested, causing health problems.

Keep in mind that contact with harmful chemicals may often lead to complications, including skin irritation and respiratory problems. In worst-case scenarios, it can lead to death. 

Physical Hazards

When it comes to safety hazards, not all dangers involve direct contact. Physical and environmental hazards threaten your well-being simply by being present in your work environment. 

This includes:

  • Radiation: This can be ionising radiation, which can damage cells and cause cancer, or non-ionizing radiation like electromagnetic fields, radio waves and microwaves.
  • Sun exposure: Excessive sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to sunburn, skin cancer and eye problems.
  • Extreme temperatures: Working in very hot or cold environments can cause heat stroke, hypothermia or other health issues.
  • Loud noise: Constant exposure to loud noise levels can damage hearing and cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Biological Hazards

Biological hazards, like disease-causing organisms, are a particular concern in research facilities, hospitals and hazardous waste sites. These hazards can infect personnel directly, and once they spread through wind and water, they may cause wider contamination.

Some examples of biological hazards include:

  • Faecal matter
  • Bodily fluids
  • Communicable diseases
  • Fungi and mould
  • Viruses and bacteria
  • Insect bites

Work Organisation Hazards

Work isn’t just about physical dangers; it can also affect one’s mental well-being. 

Work organisation hazards are stress-inducing factors that may trigger psychosocial hazards like anxiety, tension and fatigue. These can be short-term (stress) from a demanding day or long-term (strain) due to chronic issues like workload, lack of control over your work or feeling disrespected.

Examples include:

  • Extreme workload demands
  • Workplace violence or harassment
  • Poor social support
  • Lack of respect and limited control

Ergonomic Hazards

There’s often a misconception that working in an office setting is almost risk-free. While office environments offer advantages like air conditioning and optimised workspace, they also present several hazards for workers.

One such category is ergonomic hazards. These hazards arise from the physical demands of a job, including the tasks performed, the postures maintained and the overall work environment. Short-term exposure to ergonomic hazards might only cause temporary soreness. However, long-term exposure can lead to serious musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like pain, numbness and fatigue.

They are the most difficult to identify because the negative effects on the body may not be immediately apparent. Some examples of ergonomic hazards include:

  • Frequent lifting of heavy objects
  • Poor postures such as slouching and hunching
  • Workstations and chairs that are not adjusted to fit bodies properly
  • Repetitive movements
  • Vibrations

How To Identify and Mitigate Potential Safety Hazards

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nearly three million workers die each year from work-related illnesses and accidents, showing a concerning increase of over 5% since 2015.

Jobs in agriculture, construction, forestry, fishing and manufacturing come with the highest risk of fatal injuries. These sectors account for over 60% of all workplace fatalities around the world, totalling about 200,000 deaths every year.

This only highlights the importance of identifying and mitigating potential safety hazards in the workplace. But with several types of hazards to find, how do you exactly start risk assessment? How can you begin implementing work safety practices?

Here’s how:

Gather Available Data on Workplace Hazards

To identify potential dangers and who might be at risk, you should gather and analyse existing information with your employees. This includes different resources available within the workplace:

  • Inspection reports: Look at past self-inspections, reports from insurance or government agencies and incident investigations.
  • Injury and illness records: Observe trends in injuries and illnesses reported, including logs and workers’ compensation data.
  • Employee input: Conduct surveys, safety committee meetings or gather feedback to understand workers’ experiences with safety hazards.
  • Instructions and safety sheets: Review equipment manuals, data sheets for chemicals and available safety programs like lockout or tagout procedures.

You can also gather information from external sources like safety experts, government agencies and industry groups, among others. 

Regularly Inspect The Workplace For Safety Hazards

Keep in mind that workplace safety hazards are not static. Equipment gets old, workstations change, maintenance gets neglected. It only means that new dangers can appear, putting everyone’s safety on the line. 

The key to staying ahead of the curve is to conduct regular workplace inspections to identify and address potential issues before they cause accidents. This is how you can get started:

  • Conduct comprehensive inspections: Make sure inspections cover all the bases, including storage, maintenance, office functions and even work done by contractors and temporary employees. Don’t forget to inspect both plant vehicles and personal vehicles used on-site.
    • Perform regular inspections: Schedule regular inspections of all work areas, equipment, operations and facilities. Involve employees in the inspection process; their firsthand experience is important in spotting hazards.
    • Document your inspections: This can help track progress and ensure that identified hazards get addressed. Taking photos or videos of problem areas can start discussions on how to control them and serve as training aids.
  • Use checklists: Developed checklists can simplify inspections by focusing on key areas. Common hazard categories can include housekeeping, slip/trip/fall risks, electrical hazards, equipment operation, fire protection, work organisation, workplace violence, ergonomic concerns and lack of emergency procedures.

Identify Potential Health Hazards

Identifying health hazards can feel trickier than finding physical dangers. Unlike a trip hazard you can easily spot, gases or vapours might be invisible, odourless and have delayed health effects.

Here are some tips on how you can identify them:

  • Review product labels and work activities to identify the following:
    • Chemical hazards (low exposure limits, highly volatile, large quantities, unventilated spaces and skin contact with chemicals)
    • Physical hazards (excessive noise, extreme temperatures, radiation sources)
    • Biological hazards (infectious diseases, moulds, toxic plants, animal wastes)
    • Ergonomic hazards (heavy lifting, working above shoulder height, repetitive motions, vibration)
  • Conduct quantitative exposure assessments (air sampling, direct reading instruments) when possible.
  • Review worker medical records to identify patterns of health problems potentially linked to workplace exposures.

Perform Investigations on Workplace Incidents

Injuries, illnesses, close calls and other workplace incidents are warning signs of hidden dangers. That’s why you need to investigate these incidents thoroughly to find the root causes (the underlying reasons) that could lead to future problems. The goal is to prevent these from happening again. 

Here’s what you should do:

    • Develop a plan: This plan should outline who investigates incidents, how they communicate and what tools they’ll need including forms and equipment.
  • Train your team: Teach your employees how to investigate incidents fairly and objectively. Make sure that you include both managers and workers in the investigation team.
  • Find the root cause: Look beyond the immediate cause and identify the underlying issues that allowed the incident to happen.
  • Share the findings: Tell managers, supervisors and employees what you learned so they can help prevent similar incidents in the future.

Remember that you should never settle for simple answers. Every investigation should ask ‘why’ questions to understand the root cause of an incident. For instance, if a machine breaks, ask why it broke. Was maintenance missed? Was it too old? How could this have been prevented?

The same goes for human error. Don’t just blame the employee. Ask if they had the right tools and training, or proper supervision.

Implement a Safety Training Program

Safety training teaches employees with the knowledge to not just be generally careful, but to specifically identify and avoid the hazards present in their work environment.

If you’re an employer, it is your job to ensure your everyone on the job performs their tasks effectively and safely. Here are some tips on how you can design a safety training program for your employees:

  • Identify training needs: Building the right training program starts with understanding your employees’ needs. Look at your employees’ past experiences, job knowledge and skills. You should also consider factors like new hires, physical requirements and hazardous materials since not all employees require the same training.
  • Know your goals: Clearly outline what you expect employees to achieve after the training. This could be improved performance of tasks, safer work practices or a better understanding of safety protocols.

Remember that an effective safety training program goes beyond lectures. You need active participation to enhance learning and retention. This may include hands-on learning, role-playing scenarios and open dialogue.

Final Thoughts

Safety should never be an afterthought. It’s an investment in your most valuable asset— your workforce.

The story of Jose Melena is a horrifying example of what can happen when safety protocols are neglected. This tragedy, and countless others, are preventable.

This is why knowing the different categories of safety hazards and how to identify them can save lives. A proactive safety program that mitigates these hazards and risks can also lead to reduced costs, improved morale and increased productivity.

We, at Medlink, can be your partner in workplace safety. We offer a variety of services to empower individuals and businesses to address emergencies and create a safe working environment. These services include:

Let Medlink help you prioritise safety in your workplace. Contact us today to discuss your specific needs and ensure you have the right tools and knowledge to respond effectively in any emergency.

FAQs

What is a safety hazard?

A safety hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm or injury. Hazards can be physical, chemical, biological, or ergonomic.

What is a common workplace safety hazard?

Common workplace hazards include slip and trip hazards like spills or uneven flooring, falling hazards from working at heights, repetitive motion injuries from misusing tools or machinery and exposure to hazardous chemicals & electrical hazards.

How do you identify safety hazards in the workplace?

To identify hazards in the workplace, here’s what you should do:

  • Gather existing data on workplace safety hazards.
  • Regularly inspect the workplace.
  • Identify potential health hazards.
  • Perform investigations on incidents.

About Medlink Healthcare Group

Committed to providing a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem, Medlink Healthcare Group delivers top-notch ambulance services, first-aid courses and industrial paramedics. We aim to empower individuals, businesses and communities to effectively respond in times of medical emergencies, right when it matters the most.

Our first aid courses cover a wide range of topics, including a CPR + AED course, BCLS course, occupational first aid course, and a standard first aid course in Singapore—both accredited by SRFAC. Whether you’re an individual looking to acquire life-saving skills or a business investing in workplace safety and health training, we have the right course for you.

Alongside training programs, our private ambulance services are led by highly trained paramedics and equipped with cutting-edge medical technology. Every second counts; we are always ready to provide prompt and expert care when you need it most. 

Our industrial paramedics solutions can also meet the unique needs of your workplace, from on-call doctors to screening exercises and specialised clinics. We ensure that you have access to the right medical services to keep employees safe and sound, no matter where they are. 

Your journey to safety starts with us. Contact us today and prepare to respond in any emergency.

DISCLAIMER:
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for a comprehensive first-aid course provided by certified professionals. Readers are strongly encouraged to acquire a first aid education to receive the appropriate training and certification.

We do not assume responsibility for any actions taken based on the information provided in this article. Always consult with certified first aid professionals and seek hands-on training to ensure you are well-prepared to handle emergency situations competently.

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