What is a Health Hazard?
A health hazard can mean many things, but when it comes to occupational health and safety, a health hazard simply refers to any substance or a chemical that might prove to be dangerous if exposed to individuals.
For a particular substance to be deemed a health hazard, it is important that proper research or evidence (based on statistics) is available that it triggers negative health effects. The effects can either be chronic or acute in nature.
OSHA describes health hazards as any substance that has the potential to cause the following effects:
- Skin irritation or corrosion
- Respiratory issues
- Aspiration hazards
- Eye damage or irritation
- Reproductive toxicity
- Specific target organ toxicity
What is the Importance of Identifying Health Hazards?
Exposure to health hazards can result in a series of negative effects in a person’s body. In case proper treatment isn’t provided to the employee who is exposed, they could suffer from either chronic or acute effects.
Acute effects are any effects that occur soon after exposure. They last for a brief period of time, and often escalate or diminish after a while. These can include simple things like skin irritation, or in some serious cases, can result in a lethal dose that eventually turns fatal.
Chronic effects generally manifest after exposure to a health hazard over the long term. In this situation, the effects are generally long-lasting, and often include carcinogenicity or mutagenicity.
If health hazards aren’t identified, it could result in serious injuries or health problems for workers, and it could also expose the company to costly litigation.
Types of Health Hazards
Health hazards exist in almost all work environments. Hazards can be divided into several categories, such as:
Chemical hazards include the use of chlorine or pesticides, which could cause skin irritation or corrosion.
Physical hazards may include coldness, excessive heat or cold, or high amounts of radiation.
Biological hazards may include the presence of mold or fungi in the building, stinging insects, animal or bird droppings, or airborne pathogens, such as the cold. Sewage, human blood, or other blood products are also categorized as biological hazards.
Ergonomic hazards in the workplace are perhaps the most common, often including bad body posture that puts excessive strain on a person’s arms or wrists.
There are psychological hazards that employers should know about as well. These include anxiety, workplace bullying, occupational stress, or excessive fatigue.
Preventing Exposure to Health Hazards in the Workplace
To prevent exposure to health hazards in the workplace, we generally divide hazards into four main classes:
- Corrosive hazards
- Toxic hazards
- Harmful hazards
- Irritative hazards
Corrosive substances can cause skin burns or may result in permanent damage to a person’s eyes. As a result, it’s important for employees to avoid contact with their eyes or skin, and to avoid breathing the vapors. It’s also necessary for employees to wear proper PPE to avoid exposure.
These are substances that can cause life-threatening effects, even with limited exposure in very minuscule amounts. It is important that employees avoid all contact with the skin or breathe the substances in. They should also avoid swallowing them.
Harmful hazards may result in long-term health effects, even with limited exposure. Employees must not swallow, breathe, or come in contact with the substance.
Exposure to such substances may result in irritation or result in some mild toxicity. It’s imperative that such substances be kept away from the eyes or the skin, and steps must be taken to prevent release into the environment.
Steps to Manage Health Hazards
Ideally, the best way to manage hazards in the workplace is to follow some important steps, as outlined below:
1. Identifying Hazards
Identifying hazards is often a joint effort between management and the employees. The two must work together to prepare a list of all hazards in the workplace that can result in injury or illness.
A list of all harmful substances and hazards in the workplace must be prepared. Management may:
- Ask workers to identify any hazards they have noticed in their ordinary duties
- Check machinery, equipment, or other appliances to identify issues
- Review records or injuries or near misses
- Review information from manufacturers or designers about common hazards associated with machines or equipment.
2. Assessing the Risk
At this stage, the management must determine the severity of the hazard and categorize it. It’s important to prepare a list of potential impacts that the hazard can cause and how likely it is to cause harm to employees.
3. Take Precautionary Measures
From putting up warning labels to preparing guidelines on how to avoid exposure, it is necessary for management to ensure that they take necessary precautionary measures to mitigate the risk associated with the hazards as much as possible.
4. Evaluate the Results
Once precautionary measures have been implemented, it is also necessary for employers to ensure that they evaluate the results and determine how successful these changes have been.
The findings must be recorded and reviewed regularly to ensure that the hazard remains under acceptable levels.
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