A hazard is generally anything that can hurt you or make you ill.
You deal with hazards in your life every day walking across busy streets, driving and playing sports. Generally, you don't worry too much about these situations. Why? Because you've learned from an early age how to deal with everyday hazards.
You've learned from your own experiences, and you've been trained by parents, teachers and coaches. Municipalities install traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, car manufacturers install safety equipment. You might have taken driver's training and you probably wear protective gear playing sports.
But you haven't been trained how to recognize, assess and control hazards found in the workplace. That's one of the reasons why young workers are so likely to be injured at work.
You need to do some quick studying about workplace hazards so you're as comfortable with spotting hazards and dealing with them at work as you are at home, in the car and on the street.
The first step to protecting yourself is being able to recognize hazards in the work you're assigned and in the conditions you're working in. There are four main types of hazards:
Physical hazards are the most common and will be present in most workplaces at one time or another. They include unsafe conditions that can cause injury, illness and death.
They are typically easiest to spot but, sadly, too often overlooked because of familiarity (there are always cords running across the aisles), lack of knowledge (they aren't seen as hazards), resistance to spending time or money to make necessary improvements or simply delays in making changes to remove the hazards (waiting until tomorrow or a time when "we're not so busy").
None of these are acceptable reasons for workers to be exposed to physical hazards.
Examples of physical hazards include:
Biological hazards come from working with animals, people or infectious plant materials. Work in day care, hospitals, hotel laundry and room cleaning, laboratories, veterinary offices and nursing homes may expose you to biological hazards.
The types of things you may be exposed to include:
Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work, body position and working conditions put strain on your body. They are the hardest to spot since you don't always immediately notice the strain on your body or the harm these hazards pose. Short-term exposure may result in "sore muscles" the next day or in the days following exposure, but long term exposure can result in serious long-term injuries.
Ergonomic hazards include:
Chemical hazards are present when a worker is exposed to any chemical preparation in the workplace in any form (solid, liquid or gas). Some are safer than others, but to some workers who are more sensitive to chemicals, even common solutions can cause illness, skin irritation or breathing problems.
The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is designed to make sure you have the information you need to evaluate any hazards and take action to protect yourself.
Looking for more information on WHMIS?
Some hazards, such as unguarded machinery, pose immediate dangers: a worker could lose a finger or arm. Other types of hazards, such as ergonomic hazards can injure a worker over a long period of time, but the full extent of the damage (such as chronic strain or a muscle impairment) may not show up until after several months or years of exposure to the hazard.
Both types of hazards need to be fixed. Some require immediate attention because exposure to them can cause injury to you and fellow workers NOW. They can be quickly fixed by cleaning up the floor, putting a guard back on or installing a guardrail, for instance. Hazards that can hurt you in the long term also need to be identified and reported promptly. Interim solutions should be sought right away, such as rotating tasks with other workers, but permanent elimination of the hazard may take a little more time to achieve.
Once you've recognized a hazard, assessing its potential to cause injury and the extent of the hazard is a necessary step in determining how the hazard can be addressed.
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