Environmental Hazard

Definition - What does Environmental Hazard mean?

An environmental hazard is a type of hazard resulting from chemical, biological, or physical agents either from ongoing or previous human activity, or the hazard may be a property present in the natural environment.

This type of hazard poses a risk to either human health or to the natural environment.

Safeopedia explains Environmental Hazard

Environmental hazards can also be conceived under a more narrow definition that refers exclusively to hazards that pose a danger to the natural ecosystem. While both definitions are utilized within an occupational health context, the narrow definition has been adopted as part of the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which is used by occupational health agencies around the world. Under the GHS, environmental hazards form one of three distinct hazard groups alongside physical and health hazards.

The broad definition is used in the legal codes of governments such as the U.S. State of Maryland, and it includes such hazards as poor lighting, noise and vibration exposure, exposure to asbestos in buildings, and bacteria, fungi, and other biological hazards that may be present in a workplace. A psychosocial hazard—stress caused to a worker by the activities or presence of another worker within the same workspace—may also be considered an environmental hazard under this broad definition. The occupational health context for this broader definition lies in characterizing situations in which a working space becomes hazardous to occupy.

More narrowly, environmental hazards are often crossover hazards that also pose a risk to humans. That is, workplaces engaged in activity involving the production of substances that pose a risk of harm to the natural environment are recognized as also posing a risk of harm to the workers in and around that workplace. Certain types of chemical process manufacturing are examples of this type of hazard.

The GHS definition of an environmental hazard consists of substances that are hazardous to either the aquatic environment or to the ozone layer. Some jurisdictions have added additional hazards to the group. For instance, New Zealand also includes substances that are hazardous to the soil environment, terrestrial vertebrates, and terrestrial invertebrates. The GHS forms the backbone of the hazard communication standards of occupational health and safety agencies worldwide; however, as countries are allowed to adopt only parts of the GHS system, many national OHS agencies have opted not to adopt the environmental hazard group as part of their standards. For example, environmental hazards are not included as part of Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

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