Hazards in the Workplace
Any employer, especially those who operate in the construction industry, should be aware of what a hazard is. This is because hazards are critical to health and safety on site. In fact, the very first step of any risk assessment is to identify hazards, and a risk assessment is legally required before any work commences. Today we’re going to take a detailed look at hazards – the legal definition and some examples of what would be deemed a hazard on a building site.
When it comes to health and safety, a hazard can be defined as anything with the potential to cause harm – this is the case even if nobody has yet been harmed. The Oxford Dictionary defines a hazard as “A potential source of danger”, with the emphasis here on the work “potential”. This means that identifying the hazards in a workplace means identifying anything that could cause harm to anybody.
Take a look at the following examples of hazards:
- A leaning pile of bricks which could topple and cause injury
- A trailing cable that could cause somebody to trip over it
- An unprotected sharp edge that could cut somebody
- A faulty light switch
- An icy path on a winter’s day
- An obstacle or protrusion at head height that necessitates people to duck as they pass
When carrying out this first step of a risk assessment, it’s vital to identify anything that could cause harm to you or others. This could be a substance, a material used, an item of equipment and even other people. Hazards will usually fall into one of the following categories:
- Activities in the workplace – this is any activity you engage in that may create or introduce hazards. The list of workplace activities that are particularly susceptible to hazards include:
- Work at height
- Work in confined spaces
- Work with machinery
- Work near or on water
- Hot work
- Lifting operations
- Lone work
- Substances and materials – some substances or materials used in construction can be hazardous to the health and safety of workers and others. For example, flammable or explosive materials are hazards under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. Here are some of the most common hazardous materials used in construction:
- Silica dust
- Wood dust
- Cleaning substances
- Biological hazards – such as soil, insects, animals, bird or bat droppings, structures.
- Equipment – falls from height are still the most common cause or workplace fatalities and major injuries which means that ladders and other access solutions are deemed hazardous equipment. Making sure that the right access equipment is chosen for each specific task on a construction site is a vital part of ensuring the health and safety of workers.
- Environmental – these are hazards that may not be created by the work being carried out. They may be related to other work taking place on site, weather, delivery vehicles, noise or dust.