A hazard is a condition that has the potential to cause injury, damage to equipment or facilities, loss of material or property or a decrease in the capability to perform a prescribed function. Employers have a legal and moral duty to protect the health and safety of workers by preventing workplace injuries and illness.
Employees, on the other hand, have a duty to co-operate with the development and implementation of preventive or protective actions. Occupational hazards are broadly divided into health hazards and safety hazards. The following guidelines give a basic understanding of what to look out for and how to remedy the problems.
An occupational health hazard is any agent, situation or condition that can cause an occupational illness. Occupational health hazards include:
• chemical hazards, such as battery acid and solvents;
• biological hazards – often called “biohazards” – such as bacteria, viruses, dusts and moulds;
• physical agents or energy sources that are strong enough to harm the body, such as electric currents, heat, light, vibration, noise and radiation;
• ergonomic hazards, for example, poor work station design; and
• specific stressors such as harassment, violence, shift work and so forth.
An occupational health hazard may produce serious and immediate (acute) affects or it may cause long-term (chronic) problems. Someone with an occupational illness may not recognise the symptoms immediately. For example, noise-induced hearing loss is often difficult for victims to detect until it is advanced and silicosis may take as long as 15 years before it is detected.
Although it has been defined in many ways, safety can be thought of as the absence of hazards or minimisation of exposure to hazards. A safety hazard is anything that could cause an injury. Some examples of safety hazards include:
• slipping/tripping hazards – such as electrical cords across floors;
• fire and explosion hazards;
• moving parts of machinery, tools, and equipment – such as pinch and nip points or rotating parts;
• work at height – such as work done on scaffolds or ladders;
• ejection of material – such as from moulding operations;
• pressure systems – such as steam boilers and pipes;
• vehicles – such as forklifts and trucks;
• lifting and other manual handling operations;
• material falling from height, rolling, shifting, or caving-in;
• workplace violence; and
• hazards posed by working alone or in isolated workplaces.
Workplace injuries and illnesses can be prevented if unsafe work practices are corrected and workplace hazards are identified and dealt with. Every workplace should have a system in place to identify hazards, assess the risk of those hazards and make the necessary changes to control risk.
There are three basic steps in controlling the risk from workplace hazards:
Eliminate hazards posed by equipment and work processes at their source. For example, redesign the work process, replace hazardous chemicals with safer chemicals and use equipment that is in good condition.
Control the hazard to reduce the risk to workers by means of engineering controls. For example, use machine guards, noise enclosures and ventilation to dilute the concentration of a hazardous substance.
If the measures above fail to reduce hazards to acceptable levels, protect workers by using measures such as administrative controls, safe work procedures, effective safety training, proper supervision and personal protective equipment.