What You Should Know About Workplace Hazards

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 30, 2022 | Published April 26, 2021

Updated August 30, 2022

Published April 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Addressing workplace hazards is the first step to protecting employees and sustaining optimum productivity. Business managers should identify and proactively plan to avert any risks associated with potential threats within their work environments. Organizations that prioritize identification, monitoring and elimination of workplace hazards have more motivated and less distracted employees. And reasonably so—a safer work environment often means preventing inconveniences that may impede productivity, such as accidents and sick leaves. In this article, we look into the workplace hazards you should know and how to avoid them.

What are workplace hazards?

Workplace hazards are situations in workplaces that can cause injuries or adverse health effects on people within such environments.

We often use hazards and risks interchangeably, but the two terms do not mean the same thing. Hazard refers to anything that can potentially damage or harm someone or something. On the other hand, risk is something or someone's probability of being injured, if exposed to these threat factors.

Every workplace has hazards. However, some of them will be more or less relevant to your organization, depending on your business's nature.

Read more: 10 Workplace Safety Tips To Stay Productive and Protected

Types of hazards in the workplace

By understanding the various types of hazards in the workplace, business leaders become better prepared to eliminate them and avert potential damages. Workplace hazards usually fall into the following six categories:

  1. Safety hazards: Although they can affect any employee, safety hazards are more common among those who work in construction sites or handle machinery. Examples include vibration, electrical hazards, excess noise and operating dangerous machinery.

  2. Biological hazards: Biological hazards involve exposure to viruses or bacteria or any other dangerous substances that can result in health complications. They can cause hearing damage, breathing problems, skin irritation and muscle or joint pains. They mainly affect employees handling animals, infectious plant materials or those attending to other people.

  3. Ergonomic hazards: These are work conditions like poor body positioning, repetitive movement or manual handling that may strain the employee's musculoskeletal system. Ergonomic workplace hazards' effects are usually gradual.

  4. Chemical hazards: Sometimes, workplace situations may expose employees to hazardous substances like flammable gases, solvents s or harmful liquids. Continuous exposure to such chemicals may cause various complications like skin irritations, illnesses and breathing issues.

  5. Physical hazards: These are environmental conditions that may harm employees, sometimes even without touching them, for example, height and excess pressure.

  6. Psychosocial hazards: These are situations that affect mental stability and influence how employees interact with one another. Exposure to psychosocial hazards may manifest in various ways, e.g., stress or restlessness.

Related: 5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Work Environment and How To Handle It

How can workplace hazards impact employees?

Apart from the apparent physical impacts, workplace hazards can have effects on employees' health and well-being. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Physical injuries: This is the most obvious impact. Hazardous environmental conditions, for example, high temperatures may cause bodily harm.

  • Health complications: From breathing problems to skin irritation to illnesses, the last thing any employer wants is a work environment that makes their staff unwell.

  • Reduced productivity: As more employees request sick leave or take breaks to attend to injuries caused by workplace hazards, production may be halted or delayed.

  • Stress and anxiety: Stress can stem from work overload, retrenchment fears or the worry of being exposed to physical or chemical hazards within the work environment. Regardless of the cause, any form of employee stress will derail productivity.

  • Low employee retention levels: Besides making employees uncomfortable, workplace hazards reduce staff morale and satisfaction levels. Employers that don't prioritize the safety of their staff members risk losing them to competitors.

How to prevent workplace hazards

While organizations may hire specific experts to ensure their work environments' safety, the prevention of workplace hazards is a collective responsibility. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a detailed guide on creating a proper workplace hazards preparedness plan.

The OSHA guide outlines five basic steps:

  1. Elimination (involves removing the hazards physically)

  2. Substitution (replace the harmful factors with safer alternatives)

  3. Engineering controls (keeping people away from the hazardous areas)

  4. Administrative controls (changing how employees operate to isolate them from the hazard)

  5. Using personal protective equipment to keep the workers safe.

How to eliminate workplace hazards

Follow these steps to eliminate the risk of workplace hazards:

1. Have an actionable chemical spills response plan

Any organization that uses, stores, or transports harmful chemicals must proactively prepare to handle accidental spills.

The plan should address the following questions:

  • How can one report an emergency?

  • How do employees activate alarms and notify their colleagues in case of a spill?

  • What's the evacuation procedure?

As much as you prepare to handle spills, it's also essential to plan for their prevention. Some of the best practices to prevent chemical spills include:

  • Do not put chemicals on shelves above eye levels.

  • Keep chemicals in secured areas, such as raised edges, locked shelves or covered storage units.

  • Regularly check if the chemical containers have any signs of deterioration, like cracks, that may cause leaks.

2. Eliminate tripping hazards

One of the leading causes of workplace accidents is slips, trips and falls due to poor housekeeping. To eliminate them, organizations must first identify the tripping hazards in their environments. This could be wet floors, faulty stairs, poor visibility or materials lying on walking surfaces.

After identification, the next step is going down the list and making the necessary adjustments. The workplace layout should have enough footpath space with proper demarcations.

This process should not be a one-time event; businesses should continually monitor their work environments for tripping hazards and eliminate them immediately.

3. Educate staff on workplace safety

Cultivate a safety culture by continually training employees and managers on the necessity to follow safety guidelines. A properly conducted safety education exercise can significantly reduce strain injuries, accidents, slips, falls and the resulting damages from such mishaps.

4. Research the organization's safety vulnerabilities

An important way to identify an organization's safety vulnerabilities is by conducting an audit. Businesses can only develop strategies to eliminate hazards that they notice.

Although many workplace hazards exist across industries, some are unique to specific business lines or types of organizations. So, in addition to eliminating common accidents, pay close attention to safety vulnerabilities that are particular to your business.

Tips to conduct a workplace hazards vulnerability audit:

  • Identify areas to audit. It may not be tenable to assess every section of your organization at once. Consider mapping specific regions and extensively audit them before moving to other areas.

  • Plan how often you'll audit. This will depend on your organization's type and size, work environment's stability and applicable industry regulations.

  • Conduct the actual audit. It should be systematic. Again, this process will depend on your business' size and scope and the areas you've mapped out for auditing.

  • Document the findings. It's these results that will guide you in your next steps.

  • Make a report of your findings. It should be simple, precise and easy to go through. Use diagrams, graphs and photos wherever possible; they're usually easy to read and understand.

  • Develop an action plan. The goal of any audit exercise is to identify areas that need adjustment; the same applies to the workplace vulnerability assessment exercise. Once you've pointed out the hazards, the next stage is planning to eliminate them.

5. Staff your organization adequately

Adequate staffing levels ensure that employees do not have to strain beyond their regular working hours. This gives them enough time to rejuvenate and sustain optimum productivity.

At times businesses must not even maintain many permanent employees to achieve adequate staffing. You can instead hire seasonal or part-time staffers to help your permanent employees when the demand is high and drop them later.

Read more: Business Operations: How To Do a Risk Assessment

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