What are the most common types of workplace hazards?

Regardless of your business’ industry, there will be a number of workplace hazards that you must be aware of and take every reasonable measure to minimise. Some hazards are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean no actions should be taken. For example, any workplace with a staircase carries the risk of an employee tripping down and injuring themselves. However, wet-floor signs can be used to minimise the risk of an employee falling down as the result of a slippery surface. This minimises the potential likelihood of the risk, and protects not only employees’ and visitors’ health but evidence (if recorded in a risk assessment) of due diligence with regards to health and safety. At UK Safety Store, we make safety simple so your business can focus on what it does best. Here, you can easily learn about the most common types of workplace hazards before understanding the importance of carrying out a workplace risk assessment, which allows you to identify various risks, implement and maintain measures to minimise said risks, and provide evidence in the unfortunate case of legal inquiries following a risk event.

Biological hazards

Biological hazards are viruses, bacteria, insects, animals or anything else that may carry a risk of infection or adverse affects on a person’s health. With a wide-ranging definition, biological hazards are applicable to all businesses, especially with the coronavirus pandemic setting the scene for a much more biologically conscious workplace. For example, it is written into most businesses' policies that employees who have experienced vomiting should stay at home until 24 hours have passed. This is to reduce the risk of spreading a viral infection throughout the workforce and causing unnecessary illness and absence. In addition, ensuring a sanitary workplace, as far as possible, is crucial to minimising the amount of bacteria your employees come into contact with. However, as mentioned above, there are certain hazards that may be unavoidable. For example, if you run a construction business and embark on a renovation project, your workforce is likely to encounter dust, mould and debris, which can harm a person’s short- and long-term health. As a result, you should ensure your employees are adequately trained in how to safely handle and remove such substances, are made aware of specific risks onsite with legally compliant hazard signs, and provide them with relevant personal protective equipment.

Chemical hazards

Chemical hazards include substances that can cause both health and physical harm, such as skin and respiratory irritation, burns, blindness, corrosion, explosions, and more. As demonstrated, the severity of chemical risks can vary greatly. From a bottle of bleach used for cleaning an office’s restrooms to unstable industrial chemicals that could explode if transported incorrectly, you must ensure that chemical hazards are clearly marked with a warning sign to inform employees and visitors as to the risk and are handled correctly. In addition, you should ensure your business is compliant with the Control Of Substances Hazardous To Health regulations (COSHH) to protect people and property from potentially catastrophic consequences of handling chemicals without care, expertise and safety measures. You can learn how to differentiate various types of substances by reading our guide to COSHH symbols.

Physical hazards

Physical hazards include environmental factors that could harm an employee’s physical health, including high levels of noise, radiation, pressure, confined spaces, and more. Some workplaces may not include physical hazards like this, but many do. For example, manufacturing factories and construction sites might frequently need to use power tools, which can produce high levels of noise. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause tinnitus - a long-term health condition which causes a constant ringing in the sufferer’s ears. In this case, not only should adequate personal protective equipment (ear plugs/muffs) be provided, but highly visible caution signs should be strategically placed to inform employees that they’re entering an area where high levels of noise are a hazard.

Ergonomic hazards

Ergonomic hazards are physical factors that may result in musculoskeletal injuries. From the correct lifting position to poor sitting posture, all workplaces have the potential for ergonomic hazards. For example, the Health & Safety Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations 1992 provides guidelines for the safest and most ergonomic position for DSE users and requires employers to carry out DSE risk assessments to ensure employees have everything they need to work safely. If an employee uses a screen for more than one hour a day, they are considered a DSE user. In other working environments, such as warehouses and manufacturing factories, where there may be heavy or repetitive lifting involved, there is a serious risk of spinal injury as the result of poor lifting technique. While it may seem trivial to some employees, many people do not naturally lift with the correct, ergonomic posture, and find themselves unable to work or even enjoy their home life as a result. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure employees receive adequate training on how to lift correctly and where such activities should be carried out on the premises.

Psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards are factors that might have adverse effects on a person’s mental wellbeing. These might include incidents of bullying, sexual harrassment, stress, and more. You should make every effort to ensure your staff treat each other with respect and that you have a robust process for reporting incidents and resolving conflict. This is where an experienced Human Resources department can be incredibly useful, as they can offer support to your staff and provide guidance for you to achieve the most balanced healthy workplace. It is estimated that presenteeism and absence as the result of mental ill health costs UK businesses £2.4 billion each year, with over 70 million work days being lost. 

How to manage workplace hazards

With so many different kinds of workplace hazards, you need to ensure you implement, maintain and monitor risks in a comprehensive, legally compliant manner. For this, your business’ responsible person - the business owner or site manager - will need to complete a thorough risk assessment, identifying the various risks of the business before implementing measures to minimise the likelihood and impact of a risk event.

For example, your risk assessment might identify a physical hazard of loud noises caused by power tools. You identify that power tools are an essential component in your day-to-day operations, and therefore cannot be removed. This means the likelihood of the risk of loud noises cannot be reduced. Instead, you can reduce its impact by providing your staff with personal protective equipment like ear muffs/plugs and installing highly visible danger signs to highlight the risk, as well as an Ear Protection Must Be Worn sign to remind employees of the actions they must take to maintain safety. 

At UK Safety Store, we make safety simple so you can focus on producing outstanding results for your clients. That’s why we put together our resource centre, which is filled with expert advice and useful guides to help your business remain compliant and protect its employees. For more information on workplace hazards, discover our hazard safety resource hub

Darren Taylor, managing director of UK Safety Store
With over 30 years' experience in the manufacturing and regulations of safety signs, our managing director Darren prides himself on providing the very best services and insights for all UK Safety Store customers.