It would be nice if all workplaces were free of health hazards, ensured their workers safety each and every day, and met every single safety requirement. However, in reality businesses are not able to offer such guarantees. In fact, even the safest of jobs may pose the risk of a paper cut. Hazards can be identified and employees can be informed about safety hazards, but in the end it is up to the employees to abide by and comply with such safety guidelines. There are many common hazards within the workplace, and depending upon the type of business hazards can range in severity from very minor to life-threating or even deadly. Most workplace hazards can be divided into four different categories: physical, chemical, physiological, and biological.
Types of Workplace Hazards
- Physical: Physical hazards occur when certain objects such as equipment, tools, or supplies come into contact with a person and cause physical injury. Hazards within this category include arc flashes, fast moving or unguarded equipment, trip hazards, sharp edges, or even insufficient lighting. Many physical hazards are identified through different types of signage. Common signs that can be used to convey physical hazards may include “slippery when wet” signs, “forklift traffic only” signs, or “do not touch electrical hazard” signs.
- Chemical: Chemicals are common hazards within industrial, lab, and medical settings. Certain chemicals pose various health hazards when they are inhaled, come into contact with the skin or eyes, or are ingested. Chemicals come in a wide range of forms, they are not all liquid or all solid, and instead they may be in the form of vapor, gas, smoke, mist, or even dust. Working with chemicals often elicits the protection of specific safety gear and equipment to provide a barrier against contact with the dangerous substance. Common chemical hazards include corrosive or flammable substances, chemical reactions, or the production or storage of chemicals.
- Physiological: This hazard category is just beginning to be recognized as a hazard within the workplace and deals with mental distress. Mental distress is capable of being just as debilitating as physical injury depending upon the type and severity. Physiological hazards may result from extreme levels of stress, phobias, harassment or workplace bullying, etc. It is important that human resources take physiological hazards seriously and address them as needed and appropriate.
- Biological: Biological hazards are hazards that involve living things, whether they come from people, animals, or basically any living organism they are considered biological. Some biological matter may be more dangerous than others. However, all biological substances should be treated as dangerous. Biological hazards include blood and body fluids, viruses, bacteria, molds, etc.
Many employers try to make their work environments as safe and hazard free as possible; however, some hazards are just a part of the job. Employers may post safety signs, conduct safety trainings, and utilize the highest protective gear, however as mentioned earlier it is a joint venture, and employees must use their skills as well. Just like when learning to drive a car. A person can be told the rules of the road, practice driving, and utilize the appropriate safety equipment (seatbelt), but if they choose not to follow the safety practices, dangers become much more prevalent.
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