Workplace health and safety hazards

Workplace health and safety hazards can be costly (to lives and the bottom line), but the good news is that they are largely preventable if you take the right precautions. Follow the links to find advice on a range of workplace safety issues and how to manage them effectively, including information on legal requirements and how to develop appropriate policies and procedures

Employers have a responsibility to protect workers against health and safety hazards at work. Workers have the right to know about potential hazards and to refuse work that they believe is dangerous. Workers also have a responsibility to work safely with hazardous materials.

Health and safety hazards exist in every workplace. Some are easily identified and corrected, while others create extremely dangerous situations that could be a threat to your life or long-term health. The best way to protect yourself is to learn to recognize and prevent hazards in your workplace.

There are four main types of workplace hazards:

  • Physical hazards are the most common hazards and are present in most workplaces at some time. Examples include: frayed electrical cords, unguarded machinery, exposed moving parts, constant loud noise, vibrations, working from ladders, scaffolding or heights, spills, tripping hazards.
  • Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work you do, your body position and/or your working conditions put a strain on your body. They are difficult to identify because you don’t immediately recognize the harm they are doing to your health. Examples include: poor lighting, improperly adjusted workstations and chairs, frequent lifting, repetitive or awkward movements.
  • Chemical hazards are present when you are exposed to any chemical preparation (solid, liquid or gas) in the workplace. Examples include: cleaning products and solvents, vapours and fumes, carbon monoxide or other gases, gasoline or other flammable materials.
  • Biological hazards come from working with people, animals or infectious plant material. Examples include: blood or other bodily fluids, bacteria and viruses, insect bites, animal and bird droppings.

Poor work practices create hazards – examples of unsafe work practices commonly found in the workplace include:

  1. Using machinery or tools without authority
  2. Operating at unsafe speeds or in violation of safe work practices
  3. Removing or disabling guards or other safety devices on machinery or equipment
  4. Using defective tools or equipment or using tools or equipment in unsafe ways .
  5. Overloading, crowding or failing to balance materials or handling materials in other unsafe ways, including improper lifting
  6. Repairing or adjusting equipment that is in motion, under pressure, or electrically charged
  7. Failing to use and/or maintain, or improperly using personal protective equipment or safety devices
  8. creating unsafe, unsanitary or unhealthy conditions by improper personal hygiene, poor workplace maintenance or by smoking in unauthorized areas. Learn how to avoid carrying hazardous substances home with you.
  9. Standing or working under suspended loads, scaffolds, shafts, or open hatches

Report hazards immediately

Everyone in a workplace shares responsibility for ensuring that their work environment is safe and healthy. Some hazards pose an immediate danger and others take a longer time to become apparent. But both types of hazards must be fixed. If you are aware of a hazard in your workplace, you should report it promptly to your supervisor, employer or health and safety representative. Once a hazard has been identified, your employer and/or supervisor has a duty to assess the problem and eliminate any hazard that could injure workers.

Workplace inspections prevent hazards

Regular workplace inspections are another important factor in preventing injuries and illnesses. By critically examining all aspects of the workplace, inspections identify and record hazards that must be addressed and corrected.

A workplace inspection should include:

  • listening to the concerns of workers and supervisors
  • gaining further understanding of jobs and tasks
  • identifying existing and potential hazards
  • determining underlying causes of hazards
  • monitoring hazard controls (personal protective equipment, engineering controls, policies, procedures)
  • recommending corrective action

What is WHMIS?

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is a hazard communication system that provides employers and workers with information about many hazardous materials that are produced, handled, stored, used or disposed of in the workplace. The goal of WHMIS is to reduce accidents and prevent health hazards.WHMIS addresses three important areas of workplace safety:

  1. Labels – All hazardous or controlled products must carry labels that clearly identify the product and provide hazard information about it. The label must indicate whether a workplace MSDS is available in the workplace.
  2. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) – An MSDS must be provided for every controlled product in your workplace. The MSDS provides much more detailed information than a label.
  3. Worker education– Every employer is expected to develop and implement an up-to-date education program to enable workers to understand and use the information that is provided on the labels and MSDS. This program should be reviewed at least once a year, and whenever there is a change in conditions or new hazard information concerning any hazardous substances in the workplace. Employers must keep written records of employee education.

An effective program for controlling hazardous substances includes the following elements:

  • developing a written policy to show commitment and assign responsibility at every level
  • identifying and evaluating all hazardous substances in the workplace
  • labeling all hazardous substances and providing up-to-date MSDS for them
  • implementing safe work procedures and appropriate administrative and engineering controls
  • educating workers about labels, MSDS, safe handling, storage, disposal and emergency response
  • identifying required personal protective equipment and educating workers in its care and use
  • promoting the purchase of the safest substances possible
  • identifying the qualified persons responsible for carrying out the program

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