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By: Tabitha Mishra
| Last updated: March 25, 2019

What Does Hazard Mean?

In the context of occupational health and safety, a hazard is any object, situation, or behavior that has the potential to cause injury, illness, damage to property, or harm to the environment.

Health and safety hazards exist in every workplace. Some are easily identified and corrected, while others are inevitable parts of the job and must be mitigated and managed through various control measures.

Safeopedia Explains Hazard

Hazards are a broad category. Some hazards are acute and pose an immediate danger to health and safety. Others have effects that take longer to materialize or have cumulative effects, as is the case with many chemicals, vapors, and radiation.

Classification of Workplace Hazards

The major categories of workplace hazards are:

  • Physical Hazards (extreme temperatures, weather conditions, radiation, excessive noise, tripping hazards, electrical shock, falls from heights, machinery without guards installed)
  • Mechanical Hazards (machinery with protruding or moving parts, pinch points, shear points)
  • Chemical Hazards (exposure to harmful chemicals like solvents, gasses, and pesticides through dermal contact, inhalation, or ingestion)
  • Biological Hazards (viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites)
  • Ergonomic Hazards (repetitive motion, poor posture, improper lifting, extended exposure to vibrations)
  • Psychosocial Hazards (stress, violence, highly demanding work, long work hours, exposure to traumatic events)

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls

While each hazard will require a specific set of controls to mitigate its associated risks, there is a generally accepted hierarchy of control measures that applies to all hazards. It consists of five control categories, ranked from the most effective to the least. When implementing controls, employers and safety professionals should use any relevant control measures from the top of the list before moving down to less effective (though no less vital) ones.

The hierarchy is ranked as follows:

  • Elimination (removing the hazard entirely)
  • Substitution (replacing equipment, materials, or work processes with a less hazardous option)
  • Engineering controls (isolating people from the hazard, for instance with machine guards)
  • Administrative controls (changing the way the job is performed)
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) (protective gear to keep workers safe from hazards or lessen the severity of injuries)

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