The invisible risks: spotting the hazards in your workplace

When you have worked somewhere for a reasonable period of time, it can be easy to become complacent about any risks that surround you. After a while, it’s unlikely you even give much thought to the ways you manage some seemingly insignificant “everyday” safety matters; that little squeaky sound a particularly old piece of machinery might make warning you a screw needs tightening… or that dodgy step ladder sitting in a corner that you know not to use, but somehow keep forgetting to take to the tip. Avoiding these ‘little’ risks becomes second nature.

But what about someone who has just started work in your business? Or that guy who has transferred from another state or department?

Nobody knows your workplace as well as you do, so it is essential that you are fully aware of the types of hazards that could impact your safety and the safety of those that work with you.

Take a fresh look around you

Identifying hazards in the workplace involves finding tasks and objects that could potentially hurt or harm workers. Generally, hazardous situations arise at work from interaction with the following:

  • Physical elements in some work environments, e.g. particularly high or low temperatures (sometimes for extended periods)
  • The types of equipment being used, e.g. forklifts and cranes
  • The interaction of people with materials and substances used e.g. asbestos and chemicals like bleaches
  • Work tasks and how they are performed e.g. lifting and carrying objects
  • How a particular workplace’s design impacts the work required of maintenance staff or contractors required to maintain it e.g. through tasks such as repairing air-conditioning and window cleaning
  • How information in the workplace is managed; in a way that ensures everyone involved in your business is aware of the hazards: both regular and once-off

Quick check: some common hazards

The table below lists some common workplace hazards. Many hazards are part work processes, for example mechanical hazards, noise or the toxicity of various substances.

Other hazards may result from equipment or machine failures and misuse or incorrect, out dated or inadequate training and information. Further common risks are posed by spills of hazardous substances and structural failures.

Examples of regularly found hazards

Manual tasks
Overexertion or repetitive movement can cause muscular strain

Falling objects, falls, slips and trips can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or death

Potential ignition source. Exposure to live electrical wires can cause shock, burns or death from electrocution

Machinery and equipment
Being hit by moving vehicles, or being caught by moving parts of machinery can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death

Hazardous chemicals
Chemicals (such as acids, hydrocarbons, heavy metals) and dusts (such as asbestos and silica) can cause respiratory illnesses, cancers or dermatitis

Extreme temperatures
Heat can cause burns, heat stroke or fatigue Cold can cause hypothermia or frost bite

Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing damage

Ultra-violet, welding arc flashes, micro waves and lasers can cause burns, cancer or blindness

Micro-organisms can cause hepatitis, legionnaires’ disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies

Psychosocial hazards
Effects of work-related stress, bullying, violence and work-related fatigue

Put a spotlight on hazards

To be a responsible employee or employer you need to take an active approach when it comes to hazards. Look at your workplace with fresh eyes. What hazards can you see? In the hectic atmosphere of most workplaces, it’s unrealistic to think we can eliminate every hazard overnight. But take a moment to chat about what you notice with your colleagues, make updating your hazards register a healthy workplace habit and continually encourage employees to report any risks they notice at the coalface.

Being inclusive and rewarding employees for contributing to a safer (and therefore more secure and productive workplace) you may be pleasantly surprised at how soon a safety conscious culture starts to take shape.

And all of a sudden, you may notice someone has taken it upon themselves to take that old dodgy ladder to the tip.

Get active today