Safety Hazards: Types, Examples, and How to Prevent Them

Jack Lyons Account Executive
Last Updated

Safety management uses numerous principles, processes and measures to limit the number of safety hazards in a work environment. Still, hazards are everywhere.

And so it’s vital to go beyond checking compliance boxes and really look at your facility and working conditions to assess for every hazard that can cause physical or psychological injury. A good idea would be to use dedicated workplace safety management software to safeguard your effort.

What Is a Safety Hazard?

A safety hazard is any unsafe working condition that causes injury, illness, or death. Hazards typically vary depending on injury and project.

OSHA standards provide an excellent baseline for hazard prevention. Still, you must assess your company’s processes and environment to ensure there is a plan and accounting of all hazards, especially industry-specific ones. Failing to identify or recognize hazards is one of the root causes of workplace injuries, according to OSHA.

Expanding on the Types of Safety Hazards

If a company wants to improve workplace safety, it must recognize its role and responsibility in establishing a safety culture. Everyone within the organization plays a role in identifying safety hazards and ensuring protocols are in place to reduce the risk of injuries or illness.

However, before anyone can identify hazards, they must understand the types of threats common in workplace environments and how to categorize and correct them. Six workplace hazard categories make up all hazards.

1. General Safety

General safety hazards are general physical risks encountered in the workplace.

The general safety category includes the most common hazard types, and it refers to unsafe working conditions that may lead to illness, injury, or death. Some safety hazard examples include:

  • Tripping or slipping hazards (spilled liquids, loose cords, blocked aisles)
  • Working from raised areas (ladders, roofs, scaffolding)
  • Moving machinery parts or unguarded machinery
  • Electrical hazards (improper wiring, missing ground pins, frayed cords)
  • Working in confined spaces

The safety hazards on this list can cause additional hazards. For example, a person transporting chemicals may face further chemical exposure in a slip-and-fall injury, especially if protective equipment gets damaged in the fall. Safety hazards do not occur in a vacuum. More often than not, hazard identification occurs at every level within a team. The goal of an organization is to empower all team members to report or identify hazards without fear of reprisal. Companies should encourage all staff to familiarize themselves with the hazard identification checklist for their department.

Read more: Read more: Safety checklists, and 9 more features Fluix offers for safety management

2. Ergonomic Hazards

Ergonomic hazards are physical conditions in the workplace that can cause injury or health issues.

Ergonomic hazards are often hidden threats to your workforce. Injuries occur slowly, often through repetitive motions and sustained awkward or static postures. Some common causes of ergonomic hazards are:

  • Heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling
  • Repeating the same tasks over and over
  • Repetitive bending, twisting, reaching, or crouching
  • Vibrations from power tools or machinery

The threat to physical health often stems from poor workstation design and improper body mechanics. Consider cases of a data entry clerk developing carpal tunnel syndrome from years of repetitive typing or a warehouse worker suffering lower back pain because of incorrectly lifting boxes or lacking proper support.Ergonomic safety hazards can be avoided with proper training and workstation design. Companies can also avoid common ergonomic issues, like repetition injuries, by enforcing frequent breaks and permitting task rotation to limit repetitive strain risks.

3. Physical Hazards

Physical hazards include environmental factors that may cause immediate or long-term harm.

Unlike ergonomic hazards, physical hazards are among the most prolific and identifiable risks in the workplace. The hazards encompass a wide range of environmental factors and include:

  • High exposure to sunlight or UV rays
  • Incessant loud noises
  • Ionizing and nonionizing radiation (EMFs, radio waves, microwaves)
  • Temperature extremes (cold or hot)

Two common injuries facing construction and warehouse workers are heat stroke and hearing loss. The workers often work around loud machinery in hot facilities or environments. A company can institute safety protocols to reduce risks, including implementing engineering controls to reduce noise. Other measures might include:

  • Ventilation and cooling systems
  • Shielding and radiation monitoring
  • Proper machine guarding

The correct safety protocols will vary based on the industry. It is essential to consult industry-specific guides and resources to understand the best compliance and safety practices.

4. Psychological Hazards

Psychological hazards include insidious threats to well-being, such as stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Safety hazards can lead to injuries that go beyond the physical. Companies must learn to accommodate employee’s mental well-being to maintain productivity, reduce turnover, and enjoy employee satisfaction and commitment.

A psychological hazard in the workplace is not as evident as physical threats or other risks. The hazards are often intangible, resulting in emotional turmoil. Some examples of psychological hazards include:

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Lack of role clarity and support
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Traumatic events
  • Unfair treatment and poor organizational justice

Your company can reduce the risks of psychological hazards by fostering an environment of open safety communication and offering resources and support for mental wellness. The organization may also consider promoting a healthy work-life balance and adopting a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or bullying. Psychological safety is crucial to a health and safety strategy. By prioritizing psychological health, employers reap the rewards of a more engaged, innovative, and resilient workforce.

5. Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards are potentially toxic or irritating substances that can harm a person’s health.

While chemicals are integral to many industries, they can pose a significant risk to worker health. To avoid the safety hazards of chemicals, a company must understand the types of chemicals and their potential effects:

  • Carcinogens: Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer with long-term exposure.
  • Corrosives: Corrosives can cause severe burns and tissue damage.
  • Explosive and flammable chemicals: These substances pose fire and explosion risks, resulting in burns, death, and property loss.
  • Reactive Chemicals: When mixed with incompatible chemicals, reactive chemicals can become volatile, release toxic fumes, or cause explosions.
  • Toxins: Toxins can cause immediate or long-term harm to the body, including death.
  • Sensitizers: After repeated exposure, sensitizers can cause allergic reactions, including severe and life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Personal protective equipment is advisable and often required when dealing with chemicals because of the many ways they can enter the body. Depending on the composition of chemicals, they can enter the body through inhalation, skin contact, ingestion, or injection (accidental puncture with a needle or sharp object). Companies can reduce chemical safety hazards with proper training and by installing safety features like ventilation. Whenever possible, a business should substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives.

6. Biological Hazards

Biological hazards or biohazards stem from exposure to living organisms or their byproducts that may cause adverse health effects.

These safety hazards are particularly prevalent in agriculture, healthcare, research, and waste management sectors. Common biological hazards include:

  • Bacteria
  • Biological toxins
  • Fungi
  • Parasites
  • Prions
  • Viruses

Exposure to biohazards typically occurs in one of several ways: animal bites and scratches, direct contact, ingestion, inhalation, or sharp injuries. Companies have many options for reducing the risks of biohazards, including:

  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Exposure control plans
  • Food safety protocols
  • Infection control practices
  • Pest control
  • Vaccinations

The field of biological safety is expansive, with regulations varying depending on the industry and hazards involved. Your company should consult relevant health and safety resources and industry-specific guidelines for detailed protocols and recommendations.

How to Avoid Safety Hazards in the Workplace

Avoiding workplace safety hazards is more than reacting to injuries and filling out the incident report; it is also about adopting a proactive approach to safety. Safety management requires a three-step approach to hazard identification and training.

1. Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment Method Statement (RAMS) is a framework for identifying and assessing risks to determine control measures.

A safety audit or thorough risk assessment is the cornerstone of an effective safety program, and it involves a systemic approach to identifying, analyzing, and evaluating hazards in the workplace. The audit should include walkthrough inspections, a thorough review of existing incident reports, and employee input.

Companies can use a RAMS template to help identify and evaluate hazardous tasks. The document helps define the work and specific risks involved. RAMS are most common in the construction field.

Risk assessments are not a one-and-done project. Companies must continuously reassess hazards, updating them as the environment changes, including when introducing new equipment or implementing new procedures.

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2. Hazard Control Hierarchy

The hazard control hierarchy is a decision-making framework for safety management. It goes beyond the standard safety report and focuses on organizing methods for controlling workplace hazards in order of effectiveness. There are five components of the hierarchy:

  1. Elimination: The most effective control measure for safety hazards involves physically removing the hazard from the workplace.
  2. Substitution: When elimination is impossible, try replacing the hazard with a less dangerous option.
  3. Engineering controls: If elimination or substitution isn’t possible, use control to isolate the hazard from workers.
  4. Administrative controls: If all other options fail, change policies, practices, and schedules to minimize exposure.
  5. Personal protective equipment: While the least effective form of control, PPE provides workers with the gear to shield them from hazards.

A company should always strive for hazard control at the highest level to eliminate risks to workers. That said, hazard controls should be feasible without introducing additional hazards. In most situations, a company must adopt a combination of controls at multiple levels of the hierarchy.

3. Education and Training

Finally, a robust education and training program is essential to maintaining and promoting safety awareness and data-driven safety. Training and education provide insight into:

  • Emergency procedures
  • Hazard recognition
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Safe work practices
  • Safety controls

Effective training is interactive and engaging; it provides a tailored approach to specific environments and industries. Also, education includes access to documentation and modules. Employees will need ongoing access and programs to ensure staff employ current safety practices.

Part of an adequate education and training program is eliminating redundancies and issues that may interfere with accurate reporting. Many companies use paper reports for audits and assessments or reporting. However, in the paper vs. digital safety reports debate, digital is the best. Digital reports can help eliminate redundant reporting and often simplify the reporting process.

Avoiding Safety Hazards with Fluix’s Smart Automations

Smart risk prevention requires reports and analytics to determine safety controls and hazards. Fluix is a cloud-based software platform designed to automate and digitize your safety processes and help you with analytics.

With mobile forms and checklists, photos and annotations, safety reports, and integrations with your existing safety management systems, you can collect and centralize safety data, avoiding under-reporting and overlooked hazards and issues.

Discover How Fluix Can Help Improve Your Workplace Safety and Compliance

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Discover How Fluix Can Help Improve Your Workplace Safety and Compliance

Our team is here to help