Safetip #105: Pay Equal Attention to Both Safety and Health Hazards
Don’t Overlook Health Hazards
People notice more an event when it is visual and immediate, compared to an event that is not graphic and takes time to develop. For example, if you see someone involved in a traffic accident, it will have a greater impact on you than someone who does not change the engine oil of his car frequently, resulting in engine problems years later.
The same applies to occupational safety and health. Imagine seeing a colleague operate an equipment and suffer a cut on his arm that results in bleeding. The injury produces immediately a very graphic image in your mind that you remember and makes you reflect on safety. Now imagine a colleague who works with dangerous chemicals, and starts experiencing health problems years later because of exposure to the chemicals for years at his workplace. The second case is equally or even more tragic, but it may impact you less because you are not witnessing the slowly-developing health problem, and you may have even lost contact with your colleague if you changed jobs and moved on.
Since safety incidents are more visible and get noticed more, there is a risk that some health hazards may be overlooked because safety hazards get more attention. Therefore, when you perform an assessment to identify workplace hazards, be sure that both safety and health hazards are getting equal attention.
Be Aware of the Different Categories of Health Hazards
One good way to ensure that health hazards are not overlooked is to be aware of the different categories. The categorization of health hazards varies by source, but we looked at the following three to create a consolidated list: OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety’s webpage on Hazard and Risk, and the Canadian province of Alberta’s handbook on Hazard Assessment and Control.
Here are the different categories of health hazards and some examples:
- Chemical Hazards:
- Exposure to chemicals (e.g. skin, eyes)
- Inhalation of chemicals (including fumes, dust, vapors, and gases)
- Physical Hazards:
- Excessive noise
- Extreme temperatures
- Sun exposure
- Magnetic fields
- Biological Hazards:
- Infectious diseases
- Toxic or poisonous plants
- Animal materials
- Ergonomic Hazards:
- Heavy lifting
- Work above shoulder height
- Repetitive movements
- Tasks with significant vibrations
- Bad work posture
- Psychological Hazards:
- Harassment and bullying
- Workplace violence
The list above is one way of categorizing health hazards. You may come across other ways to categorize them, but start with this list to establish visibility over your health hazards so they get the same amount of attention as safety hazards.
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