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According to statistics provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in the UK in 2020/2021:
- 142 workers were killed in work-related incidents.
- 1.7 million people experienced a work-related illness.
- 441,000 people sustained an injury at work.
- 2,369 people died due to previous asbestos exposure at work.
What is a health and safety hazard?
A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm or damage or have an adverse effect on a person or people. Many people confuse the words hazard and risk, especially in relation to occupational health and safety. The risk or level of risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or experience an adverse effect if they are exposed to a hazard. In other words, it is the likelihood that a hazard will have a negative impact on an individual’s health and safety.
Health and safety hazards can come from a variety of sources. Hazards can be substances, materials, processes and practices that can cause harm.
The most common health and safety hazards are:
Biological hazards, often referred to as biohazards, can be any biological or organic substances that have the potential to cause harm or pose a threat to a person’s health. You may be exposed to biological hazards if you work with animals, people or infected plants. Biological hazards can have adverse health effects and in extreme circumstances can result in death.
Biological hazards can be found in a variety of workplaces, including hospitals, laboratories, schools, care homes, farms, and within the food industry.
An individual can be exposed to a biological hazard by having contact with any of the following:
- Blood and other bodily fluids.
- Medical waste.
- Fungi, moulds and yeasts.
- Bacteria and viruses.
- Animal and bird droppings.
- Environmental specimens, such as plants or soil.
- Biological toxins and venoms.
- Insect bites.
- Rubbish, wastewater and sewage.
Biological hazards are classified into four groups, depending on the level of risk of infection to humans, with Group 1 having the lowest risk and Group 4 having the highest risk.
Biological hazards can be transmitted in several ways, including by injection, absorption, ingestion or inhalation.
Chemical hazards are hazardous chemicals that can be in the form of a solid, liquid or gas. Some chemicals are more hazardous than others and they can result in a huge variety of health and physical effects, including skin irritation, breathing problems, respiratory system irritation and blindness.
Chemical hazards can be found in a variety of everyday products, meaning that many homes and workplaces involve a risk of coming into contact with chemical hazards, including hair salons, florists, restaurants, bars, schools and cleaning companies.
Chemical hazards may be present in the following products:
- Cleaning products.
- Paints and solvents.
- Gases such as acetylene, propane, carbon monoxide and helium.
- Vapours and fumes.
- Flammable materials.
- Heavy metals, such as aluminium, mercury and lead.
- Petroleum products.
- Hair dyes and other hair products.
Hazardous chemicals are categorised according to how dangerous they are. Some of the categories include Harmful, Toxic, Very Toxic, Corrosive, Flammable, Extremely Flammable, Oxidising Agent, and Explosive.
Physical hazards cannot always be seen or touched. They can be any factor or condition of the environment that can harm a person, even if they do not touch them.
People in a variety of environments can be exposed to physical hazards, including construction, demolition and excavation, as well as those who spend long periods outside.
Some examples of physical hazards include:
- Loud noises.
- High exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays.
- Extreme temperatures.
- Body stressing from repetitive or strenuous work.
- Confined spaces with poor ventilation or contaminants.
- Electricity, including electric shock.
Ergonomic hazards are a result of physical factors such as body positions, the type of work you are undertaking, and any working conditions that can put a strain on your body. Many ergonomic hazards occur over time and can result in musculoskeletal injuries. Ergonomic hazards are often related to manual handling and can be found in all types of workplaces.
Musculoskeletal injuries can have significant short-term and long-term impacts on a person’s health and wellbeing.
They affect the musculoskeletal system which includes the muscles, tendons, bones, joints, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. Common musculoskeletal injuries include back injuries, upper limb or neck disorders, lower limb disorders, and damage to joints or other tissue.
Ergonomic hazards include:
- Poor posture.
- Frequent lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and lowering.
- Repetitive movements.
- Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs.
- Awkward movements.
- Frequent physical effort or physical effort for long periods.
- Excessive vibrations.
Safety hazards are hazards that create unsafe working conditions. Unsafe working conditions can cause injury, illness or even death. Safety hazards can be found in homes and workplaces across the UK.
Safety hazards can cause a significant number of injuries or illnesses and can even result in death.
Some examples of safety hazards include:
- Trip hazards such as trailing wires and cords, frayed carpets and rugs, and unexpected items on the floor.
- Slip hazards, such as water or ice on the floor.
- Ladders, rooves, scaffolding and high working areas can result in a fall from a height.
- Unguarded machinery that an employee can accidentally come into contact with.
- Damaged tools, equipment or machinery.
- Electrical hazards that could cause electric shock, burns or fires, including frayed or faulty cords or wires, missing ground pins, incorrect wiring, and overloaded circuits.
- Areas of poor visibility.
- Overhead power lines.
- Falling objects.
Environmental hazards are substances, states or events that can cause harm to people or have an adverse effect on their health. They are usually related to the weather, temperature and climate. They may be unpredictable or frequently changing, which is one of the reasons why they are considered hazardous.
Some examples of environmental hazards include:
- Extreme temperatures.
- Extreme precipitation.
- High levels of pollution.
- High levels of radiation.
- High levels of noise.
Also known as work organisational hazards, these are hazards that can affect an employee’s mental health and wellbeing. An employee can experience both short-term and long-term effects of psychosocial hazards.
Some examples of psychosocial hazards include:
- Workplace demands.
- Bullying in the workplace.
- Workplace harassment.
- Sexual harassment.
- Workplace violence.
- Workplace aggression and abuse.
- A lack of social support or workplace relationships.
- A lack of control in the workplace.
- Workplace stresses.
- Lack of respect in the workplace.
Health and safety hazards in the construction industry
In 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that there were 74,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in the constructions industry alone. Nearly 40,000 of these injuries were musculoskeletal disorders. Individuals who work in the construction industry are 2-3 times more likely to experience a workplace injury compared to other industries.
The main reason for the higher incidence of injuries in the construction industry is the high number of health and safety hazards.
Some of the most common health and safety hazards in the construction industry are:
- Slips, trips and falls
Construction sites have many hazards that can cause slips, trips and falls. This could include trailing wires and cords, uneven flooring, debris on the floor, and leaking water.
- Working at heights
This could include working on rooves, ladders and scaffolding. Working at heights increases the risk of a fall.
- Moving or unguarded machinery
Construction sites often have moving vehicles, machinery and equipment. Moving and unguarded machinery could cause injury by crushing, trapping, cutting or entangling a construction worker, their clothing or hair in its moving parts.
- Manual handling tasks
Manual handling tasks are any tasks that involve transporting or supporting a load using your hands or body. Manual handling in construction can include carrying or lifting heavy loads, using equipment and machinery, and supporting walls and plasterboard. Manual handling is hazardous as it increases the risk of experiencing a musculoskeletal injury or other injury or illness.
- Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS)
If construction workers use vibrating tools repeatedly, or for long periods, this can cause permanent damage to the nerves, blood vessels and joints in the fingers, hand and arm. Some tools that could cause HAVS are chainsaws, drills and concrete breakers.
Many buildings and construction materials in the UK, such as pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, boilers and walls, contain asbestos – especially if the building was built before the 1990s. When asbestos is disturbed during demolition, repairs, building work and maintenance, asbestos particles and fibres are released into the air. Being exposed to asbestos can have serious long-term health consequences, such as lung disease and cancer.
Repetitive or excessive noise can be a major hazard for construction workers. It can cause hearing loss, stress and a reduction in concentration. Loud noises can also reduce effective communication, making injuries more likely.
- Airborne construction dust
Construction dust is a general term for dust that can be found on a construction site. It is made up of silica dust, non-silica dust and wood dust. Construction dust is hazardous when breathed in and can cause lung cancer, silicosis, asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
Electricity is a hazard that can result in electrocution or electric shock. Many construction workers including electricians, builders, plumbers and decorators may encounter electricity as part of their job role.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers are required by law to conduct a risk assessment of health and safety hazards on construction sites. This can help to reduce the number of hazards you are exposed to on a construction site.
However, self-employed and employed construction workers are not required to conduct a risk assessment if less than five people are working for them. This could mean that hazards and risks are not always reduced to the lowest possible level.
If you become aware of any hazards on a construction site you are working on, it is important that your report these hazards to the relevant people. This could be your employer, supervisor, a health and safety manager, or the site manager.
If you believe these concerns have not been taken seriously, or the hazard has not been dealt with, you could contact the Human Resources department of your company.
Alternatively, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) directly. HSE is responsible for enforcing health and safety in many industries and workplaces across the UK.
Health and safety hazards in hospitals
There are many different members of staff working in different capacities and departments within a hospital. This includes doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals, cleaning staff and administrative staff.
Health and safety hazards in hospitals can also differ depending on the area of the hospital you work in and the role you fulfil. Health and safety hazards can also affect patients and visitors to the hospital.
Being aware of potential hazards and removing or reducing them to the lowest possible level is therefore essential.
Some of the most common health and safety hazards in hospitals include:
- Manual handling
This can include lifting, transporting or supporting patients, machinery and equipment. Manual handling is involved in many job roles within hospitals, such as transferring a patient between the bed and the chair, moving trolleys and wheelchairs, and carrying equipment. Manual handling can cause a number of injuries including musculoskeletal disorder, back pain, sprains, strains, hernias and prolapsed discs.
- Occupational violence
Hospital staff may be subject to occupational violence including verbal and physical abuse, threats, and assault from patients and visitors to the hospital. Not only can this result in physical injuries, but it can also result in emotional distress and short-term and long-term mental health difficulties.
- Work-related stress
Work-related stress can occur when the requirements of a person’s job don’t match the available resources and the capabilities and needs of the individual. Hospital employees often encounter highly stressful situations including heavy workloads, emotionally challenging situations and long working hours. Work-related stress is particularly hazardous as it can result in stress disorders, anxiety, depression and burnout.
- Chemical hazards
Hospitals and other healthcare settings have many hazardous chemicals on their premises. This includes chemicals that are used to treat patients, such as medication, drugs and gases, and chemicals that are used to clean, disinfect and sterilise.
- Infectious diseases and agents
Hospital workers have a high risk of coming into contact with infectious diseases and agents. This could be potentially hazardous to their health, particularly if they come into close contact with the patient, their bodily fluids, or waste.
- Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls account for a high number of accidents and injuries in healthcare settings. These can occur for a variety of reasons including floor contamination and obstacles, inappropriate footwear, poor lighting and floor level changes.
All hospitals in the UK should have current risk assessments for many of the tasks, activities and operations that take place. However, if you believe the risk assessment is not accurate, or you have identified other hazards or risks, there are several procedures you can follow.
If you are a member of hospital staff and you need to report a health and safety hazard, the first person you should speak to is your line manager. Alternatively, you can consult another manager within the hospital or speak to the Human Resources department.
Many hospitals and healthcare settings will also have a formal system in place where you can submit a written report of your concerns.
If the issue concerns patient safety, NHS staff and the general public are encouraged to report the issue on the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS). This helps the NHS to identify hazards and risks and improve patient safety.
Health and safety hazards in a nursery
Health and safety hazards in a nursery can affect nursery staff, the children attending the nursery, and any parents, carers and other visitors to the nursery.
In order to protect the health and safety of everyone involved, it is imperative to identify any potential hazards and eliminate them or reduce them to the lowest possible level.
Some of the most common health and safety hazards in a nursery are:
- Manual handling
Nursery staff often have to lift and carry children, toys and equipment. It is important that all staff are aware of the correct manual handling techniques, such as posture, positioning and physical effort.
- Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls can occur because of a variety of hazards including wet floors, spillages, unexpected items, such as toys, on the floor, loose rugs and carpets, and issues with external play areas. Nursery staff need to be constantly aware and vigilant of any potential hazards on the floor.
- Food poisoning
As many nurseries prepare food on-site for the children and staff, it is important to maintain food hygiene standards at all times. Ensuring food is stored, cooked and chilled correctly, efficient cleaning procedures are followed, and kitchen staff pay attention to use-by dates is imperative. Reducing the hazards related to the food that is served can help to protect staff and children from bacteria, food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses.
- Choking on food and small objects
Young children, especially infants and children, love to put things in their mouths. Small objects, such as those you find in many toys and games, are a choking hazard and should be removed from areas where young children are present.Nursery staff should also ensure they carefully supervise the children as they engage in games and activities. Food can also be a choking hazard if is not cut into small, bitesize pieces. Grapes, carrots, apples, nuts, hot dogs, blueberries and sweets are the foods that pose the biggest choking risk.
- Improperly maintained and inspected equipment
Nursery equipment such as climbing frames, slides, scooters, bikes, ride-on toys and space hoppers should be inspected and maintained regularly to ensure they are functioning correctly and there is no damage, rust or other issues that could be hazardous to children.
- Viruses, infections and illnesses
Nursery staff and children are at high risk of coming into contact with viruses, infections and other illnesses. Young children have a lower immune system and the close contact between staff and children means illnesses spread much more quickly.
- Biological hazards
Nursery staff have to deal with cuts and injuries, nappy changes and illnesses on a daily basis. This means they can be exposed to biological hazards such as blood, bodily fluids and waste. These are hazardous if they are inhaled, ingested or absorbed in some way.
- Work-related stress
Nursery workers may feel that they have too many responsibilities or work-related demands, long working hours, and a job that requires consistently high levels of energy and concentration. These factors can all result in work-related stress and can have a negative impact on the employee’s mental health and wellbeing.
All nurseries in the UK should have extensive health and safety procedures in place. This should include risk assessments, risk management procedures, manual handling procedures, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations, and a system for reporting accidents and incidents.
If you are an employee of a nursery and you need to report any concerns regarding your nursery’s procedures or any health and safety hazards, you should first report these to your line manager or the nursery manager.
You should also record your observations or concerns in writing. If no changes are made, or you are still concerned, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) directly.
If you are a parent and hazards have resulted in a serious incident, such as a serious injury or food poisoning at your child’s nursery, you can report the nursery to Ofsted. If your concerns relate to potential hazards you have observed, you should speak to the nursery manager directly.
Health and safety hazards in offices
Many people in the UK work in an office. You may think that an office is less hazardous than other workplaces, and although you are statistically less likely to incur an injury in an office compared to on a construction site, health and safety hazards in the office still exist and should be taken seriously.
Some of the most common health and safety hazards in an office are:
- Manual handling
Manual handling activities in an office can include moving office furniture and equipment, carrying heavy books and files, and repetitive movements such as typing. This can lead to injuries such as repetitive strain injuries in the hands and wrists, and neck or back strain or pain.
- Display screen equipment (DSE)
This includes desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and televisions. If you use DSE every day for long periods of time, you may experience eye strain, headaches and even a deterioration in your eyesight.
- Occupational sitting
This is prolonged sitting as part of your job role, for example sitting at your office desk for long periods every day. Poor posture and unsupportive chairs can result in neck pain and strain and back injuries. Other occupational sitting hazards can include numbness in the legs, varicose veins, increased blood pressure, and a higher risk of obesity.
Offices usually have a lot of electrical equipment in small spaces. Electricity is an important office hazard to be aware of as you may experience overheated equipment, overloaded sockets, damaged cables, and electrical equipment that hasn’t been PAT tested. Electrical hazards can result in electrocution, electric shock and fires.
- Work-related stress
Offices can often be high-stress environments. Work-related stress can occur in office employees for a number of reasons, such as too many demands and responsibilities, difficult working relationships, long working hours, and a poor working environment. Some office employees may also experience stress if they find the work they are asked to undertake is boring, uninspiring or too easy.
- Poor indoor air quality
Office workers often spend between 8 and 12 hours a day inside one room or area. Some offices have poor indoor air quality as a result of overcrowding, poor ventilation systems, mould, asbestos, dust or the presence of strong cleaning chemicals. Poor air quality can result in a number of health conditions, including asthma and eczema.
- Slips, trips and falls
As in many workplaces, common office hazards include cluttered areas, unexpected items on the floor, loose floorboards or carpet, cables and wires on the floor, and wet floors and spillages. These health and safety hazards can all result in slips, trips and falls which can cause a variety of injuries.
If you need to report a health and safety issue or the presence of hazards in your office, you should speak to your line manager or the office manager. Alternatively, you can contact your office or company’s Human Resources department or your union representative.
If you feel that your office is not taking your concerns seriously, or that the issue you need to report is especially serious, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and make a report on their website or via phone.
Health and safety hazards in warehouses
Ensuring the health and safety of warehouse staff can be difficult due to the many different tasks, activities and operations that are performed in a warehouse.
This can include handling heavy loads, operating machinery and equipment, packaging goods, assembly, production, loading and unloading goods, preparation of orders, and shipping.
Many health and safety hazards can be found in warehouses and if these hazards are not eliminated or reduced to the lowest possible level, employers are risking the health and safety of their employees.
Some of the most common warehouse health and safety hazards are:
- Moving vehicles, machinery and equipment
Many warehouses have large vehicles, machinery and equipment that are operated by staff. In order to reduce the risk, employers should ensure that any employees who operate any machinery are properly trained, follow safety rules and regulations, and adhere to best practices at all times. Moving machinery and equipment should never be left unattended and it should be properly maintained and inspected at all times.
- Collapsing or falling objects
Warehouses often have goods in pallets and boxes on high shelves, being transported by forklifts, or stacked high. Falling objects or collapsing shelves or boxes can result in crush injuries and even death. The heavier the falling objects and the greater the height from which they have fallen, the higher the risk of serious injury.
- Manual handling
Manual handling tasks in a warehouse can include lifting and handling goods, using equipment and machinery, and repetitive movements. Minimising manual handling or lowering the risks to the lowest possible level can help to reduce the risk of injury.
- Working at height
Falls from heights result in a higher number of fatal and serious injuries in the workplace every year than other hazards. Warehouse staff may use ladders, or work on platforms or in high vehicles. Employers should ensure that staff have proper training and that ladders and platforms are properly maintained.
- Unsafe pallets
Pallets are frequently used in warehouses and are handled both manually and with forklifts. They can be a serious hazard to employees if they are incorrectly handled, stacked too high, overloaded, unevenly loaded, have loose or broken boards or have protruding nails.
- Incorrect or no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Depending on your role within the warehouse you may be required to wear specific clothing or PPE. Not wearing the correct clothing can result in injuries. You may need to wear safety shoes, a hard hat, a high visibility jacket, eye protection and ear protection.
- Slips, trips and falls
Many warehouses have unlevel floors, running cords and wires on the floor, poor lighting, steps, loose materials on the floor, and unattended spillages. Slips, trips and falls can result in a number of different injuries.
Any warehouse employee who becomes aware of a hazard should report it as soon as possible. Your warehouse should have a procedure for reporting hazards and other health and safety concerns, and you should follow this procedure to ensure that the appropriate manager or supervisor can deal with the hazard as quickly as possible.
Health and safety hazards in food manufacturing
Food safety hazards can cause foodborne illnesses, injuries and allergic reactions. Hazards can affect food throughout the entire food processing, including during manufacturing.
As well as the health and safety hazards that can cause illness or injury to consumers, hazards within the food manufacturing workplace can also have an adverse effect on workers.
The most common health and safety hazards in the food manufacturing industry are:
- Biological hazards
Biological hazards occur if food is contaminated by microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. These microorganisms can cause contamination and result in foodborne illnesses and food poisoning.
- Chemical hazards
Chemicals are sometimes added to food to preserve it. However, unintentionally added chemicals can be a major hazard and can cause short-term and long-term harm to consumers. Some chemicals may be dangerous or toxic if consumed.
- Allergenic hazards
Allergens are ingredients or food products that can cause a dangerous and potentially fatal immune reaction from the body. The consequences of being exposed to an allergen can range from a rash and swollen eyes to severe breathing difficulties and anaphylaxis. The 14 allergens are celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide, and sulphites. You must correctly label all food products if they contain any of the 14 allergens and try to reduce contact between the allergens and other food products to prevent cross-contamination.
- Physical hazards
This includes foreign objects that can enter food during the manufacturing process, such as plastic, wood, glass, human hair and fingernails. Physical hazards can also include those that naturally occur in the food, such as bones in fish and meat and dirt on fruits and vegetables. Hazards can cause contamination that can make someone ill, present a choking hazard, or cause damage to a person’s teeth, mouth or throat.
- Manual handling
This is a hazard that affects workers in the food manufacturing industry. Repetitive movement from cutting, chopping and mixing, and lifting heavy boxes and equipment can cause manual handling injuries.
- High noise levels
Many food manufacturers employ noisy machinery such as blenders, mixers and food processors. Being consistently exposed to loud noises can cause hearing loss, stress and increase the likelihood of work-related accidents.
If you are an employee who needs to report health and safety hazards in your food manufacturing workplace, you should follow your workplace’s procedures. This could include informing your line manager, supervisor or the most senior member of staff present at the time.
You may also be asked to submit a written report or provide photos or more information about the hazard. You should also inform other members of staff immediately so that the hazard doesn’t cause injury or illness before it is dealt with.
If you are a consumer or member of the public and you need to report a health and safety hazard, you should contact your local authority or the Food Standards Agency.
How to identify health and safety hazards
Identifying hazards is essential for risk management and ensuring the health and safety of all employees and the general public.
Both employers and employees should remain vigilant of hazards at all times and identify and eliminate them as quickly as possible.
Some ways you can identify health and safety hazards are:
- Inspect the workplace regularly.
- Ensure all employees and managers are trained on health and safety and the identification of hazards.
- Consult employees and managers about any hazards they have identified and the best way you can manage them.
- Review and inspect all equipment, machinery, tools and vehicles regularly.
- Clean and maintain equipment and machinery regularly.
- Consult product manuals to ensure you are aware of risks and are using all equipment correctly.
- Investigate any health and safety incidents, accidents and injuries thoroughly.
- Create a hazard map to mark existing and possible hazards.
- Identify any hazards associated with emergency procedures.
How can health and safety managers ensure hazards are under control?
Once hazards have been identified and evaluated, it is the responsibility of health and safety managers to ensure that hazards are under control.
The most efficient way to eliminate or reduce hazards is by conducting a risk assessment. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for any employer who has more than five employees. A risk assessment should identify any potential hazards, what risks are involved in the activity and how these risks can be reduced or removed.
A risk assessment has specific steps that should be followed:
1. Identify hazards and any risk factors that could potentially cause harm.
2. Analyse and evaluate any risks associated with the hazard.
3. Determine the likelihood of harm and the severity of the potential harm.
4. Determine who is likely to be harmed and if any individuals are more at risk than others.
5. Determine appropriate and effective ways to eliminate, reduce or control risks.
6. Record all details of the risk assessment and update when necessary.
7. Ensure every relevant person reads and signs the risk assessment.
Why is it important to assess health and safety hazards?
Assessing hazards is not only a legal requirement, but it also helps to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. Identifying hazards helps you to evaluate risks, and the effectiveness and suitability of any existing hazard controls and risk management measures.
Identifying hazards can also help you to implement any additional controls, utilise equipment or tools to reduce risks and remove hazards where possible.
Identifying hazards can considerably reduce the likelihood of work-related accidents, injuries and illnesses.
Assessing and eliminating hazards can also reduce work-related fatalities. In 2020/2021, 142 workers suffered fatal injuries at work, with the main causes of death being:
- Falls from a height.
- Being struck by a moving vehicle or object.
- Being trapped by something that had collapsed or overturned.
- Contact with moving machinery.
Identifying and removing hazards associated with these processes and others can help to reduce work-related deaths in the UK.