According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the root causes of workplace injuries and illnesses is the failure of employers and employees to recognize common workplace hazards. As a result, many injuries and, sometimes, fatalities occur instead of employers properly correcting the hazards. For example, in 2020, private industry employers reported 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses. Furthermore, in April 2022, OSHA announced the launch of a new enforcement program to reinforce the importance of workplace safety. Employers must implement an effective safety and health program to keep workers safe. In effect, this program should include an ongoing and proactive process to identify and rectify common workplace hazards. This blog post identifies six common workplace hazards that employers and employees should look out for and correct right away.
The Six Common Workplace Hazards
According to OSHA, common workplace hazards fit into six different categories:
- Safety Hazards,
- Biological Hazards,
- Physical Hazards,
- Ergonomic Hazards,
- Chemical and Dust Hazards, and
- Work Organization Hazards.
1. Safety Hazards
Firstly, Safety Hazards are the most common workplace hazards and are present in most workplaces at one time or another. These hazards include unsafe conditions that can cause injury, illness, and death. Specifically, examples of Safety Hazards include:
- Spills on floors or tripping hazards, such as blocked aisles or cords running across the floor
- Working from heights, including ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or any raised work area
- Unguarded machinery and moving machinery parts (guards removed or moving parts that a worker can accidentally touch)
- Electrical hazards like frayed cords, missing ground pins, and improper wiring
- Confined spaces
- Machinery-related hazards (lockout/tagout, boiler safety, forklifts, etc.)
2. Biological Hazards
Secondly, Biological Hazards are associated with working with animals, people, or infectious plant materials. For instance, working in schools, daycare facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals, and laboratories may expose you to biological hazards. Jobs in the emergency response field, nursing homes, outdoor occupations, and other similar careers also run the risk of exposure. Types of things you may be exposed to include:
- Blood and other body fluids
- Bacteria and viruses
- Insect bites
- Animal and bird droppings
3. Physical Hazards
Thirdly, Physical Hazards are factors within the environment that can harm the body without necessarily touching it. Physical Hazards include:
- Radiation: including ionizing, non-ionizing (EMFs, microwaves, radio waves, etc.)
- High exposure to sunlight/ultraviolet rays
- Temperature extremes, both hot and cold
- Constant loud noise
4. Ergonomic Hazards
Fourthly, Ergonomic Hazards occur when the type of work, body positions, and working conditions strain your body. Keep in mind that these common workplace hazards are hard to spot since you don’t always immediately notice the strain on your body. Occasionally, short-term exposure may result in “sore muscles” the next day or in the days following exposure. Long-term exposure, however, can result in serious long-term illnesses. Ergonomic Hazards include:
- Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs
- Frequent lifting
- Poor posture
- Awkward movements, especially if they are repetitive
- Repeating the same actions over and over
- Having to use too much force, especially if you have to do it frequently
5. Chemical Hazards
Next, Chemical Hazards are present during any chemical preparation in the workplace, in any form (solid, liquid, or gas). Workers exposed to Chemical Hazards can experience long-term injuries or even death. Some chemicals are safer than others, however. Still, to some workers who are more sensitive to chemicals, even common solutions can cause illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems. Chemical Hazards include:
- Liquids like cleaning products, paints, acids, and solvents. If the chemicals are in an unlabeled container, workers must take extreme caution before using them.
- Vapors and fumes that come from welding or exposure to solvents
- Gases like acetylene, propane, carbon monoxide, and helium
- Flammable materials like gasoline, solvents, and explosive chemicals
6. Work Organization Hazards
Finally, Work Organization Hazards are hazards or stressors that cause stress (short-term effects) and strain (long-term effects). These common workplace hazards are associated with workplace issues such as workload, lack of control and respect, etc. Examples of Work Organization Hazards include:
- Workload demands
- Workplace violence
- Intensity and pace
- Respect (or lack of)
- Projecting authority or dictating actions
- Social support/relations
- Sexual harassment
Identifying and Assessing Common Workplace Hazards
As noted earlier, OSHA states that the root cause of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidents is failure to identify or recognize hazards. Failing to anticipate common workplace hazards can also lead to injuries and fatalities. Indeed, a critical element of any effective safety and health program is a proactive, ongoing process to identify and assess such hazards.
To identify and assess hazards, employers and workers should:
- Collect and review information about the hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace.
- Conduct initial and periodic workplace inspections to identify new or recurring hazards.
- Investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents, and close calls/near misses to determine the underlying common workplace hazards, causes, and safety and health program shortcomings.
- Group similar incidents and identify reported injuries, illnesses, and hazards trends.
- Consider hazards associated with emergency or non-routine situations.
- Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents resulting from each hazard identified and use this information to prioritize corrective actions.
Employers should fix some common workplace hazards when discovered. For example, cleaning up a spill in the hallway or removing a tripping hazard should not take much time or effort. Fixing hazards on the spot emphasizes the importance of workplace safety and health for workers and promotes a safe work environment.
Preventing and Controlling Common Workplace Hazards
In conclusion, effective controls:
- protect workers from workplace hazards;
- help avoid injuries, illnesses, and incidents;
- minimize or eliminate safety and health risks; and
- help employers provide workers with safe and healthful working conditions.
The processes described below help employers prevent and control the common workplace hazards identified earlier. Markedly, to effectively control and prevent hazards, employers should:
- Involve workers who often understand the conditions that create hazards and ask for insights into how management can control these common workplace hazards.
- Identify and evaluate options for controlling hazards using a “hierarchy of controls.”
- Use a hazard control plan to guide the selection and implementation of controls. Employers should also implement controls according to the plan.
- Develop plans with measures to protect workers during emergencies and non-routine activities.
- Put all controls into effect.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of existing controls to determine whether they continue to provide protection or whether different controls may be more effective.
Personnel Concepts’ Compliance Solutions
The failure to recognize and prevent common workplace hazards can be a costly exercise for employers and employees. For example, employers who fail to comply with OSHA workplace safety standards can face fines of up to $14,502 per violation. Employees, meanwhile, could experience harsher penalties in the form of injuries and even death. Therefore, to help valued customers comply with OSHA workplace safety standards, Personnel Concepts offers the following valuable resources:
- Workplace Safety Digital HR Compliance Forms – Under the OSH Act, employers must provide a type or place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause severe injury or death. These attorney-reviewed, fill-in-the-blanks forms help employers maintain a safe workplace. In sum, the collection of workplace safety forms includes tools for self-inspections, accident investigations, and assigning proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Space Saver-2 OSHA Safety Poster – The Space Saver-2 OSHA Safety Poster provides all the postings, notices, and information that OSHA requires general industry employers to have in their facility. Personnel Concepts’ unique All-On-One format saves wall space and ends bulletin board clutter. Additionally, it eliminates the need to purchase individual safety posters addressing the most commonly cited OSHA standards.
Interactive Training Programs
- Workplace Violence Prevention Training Program – An interactive training program (based on OSHA guidelines & Department of Homeland Security guidance) that provides key information to help prevent serious injuries and fatalities resulting from violent incidents in the workplace, and fulfill compliance obligations under OSHA’s General Duty Clause.
- GHS Compliance Training Module for Employees – An online, interactive training module with automated acknowledgment notifications to help employers comply with mandatory GHS training requirements under OSHA’s Hazard Communications standard (1910.1200).
- Slips, Trips, and Falls Prevention Training Program for Employees – An interactive, online training module for employees to prevent slips, trips, and falls in the workplace and ensure compliance with the communication and training requirements of OSHA’s Walking & Working Surfaces standards (29 CFR 1910, Subpart D).
NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.