Workplace hazards are any physical, mental, biological, or chemical agent that may cause harm to an employee or other person or limit their ability to work efficiently. Workplace hazards negatively affect your safety, health, and productivity at work.
Workplace hazards may be caused by various factors, such as toxic materials or unsafe equipment. Workplace hazards can also stem from threats that occur at the job site or in the workplace. Some of the workplace hazards may be obvious, while some may not be as obvious.
Each year, more than one million workers in the United States are injured on the job. According to OSHA, workplace accidents cost employers nearly $171 billion annually.
However, to prevent deadly diseases, accidents, and injuries from happening in the workplace, it’s crucial to understand the most common types of workplace hazards, their causes, and how they affect workers’ physical and mental well-being.
- Asbestos exposure and health issues
Various toxic substances are proven deadly and hazardous in the workplace, and asbestos is one of them. Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in several building materials and is used in insulation, fireproofing, and as a component of cement.
Asbestos fibers spread into the immediate atmosphere when asbestos materials are damaged or disturbed. The release of such fibers into the air cause breathing problems if you have been exposed to them on your job site.
Mesothelioma is a condition caused by asbestos exposure and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people each year in the United States. The CDC estimates that the mesothelioma rate amongst military veterans is 20 times higher than the general population.
Fortunately, the Mesothelioma Veterans Center assists mesothelioma veterans and their families through VA benefits and legal assistance.
- Psychosocial health hazards
Psychosocial hazards are the psychological and social stresses linked to working conditions that can lead to stress, burnout, and depression.
It is a condition that occurs when the demands exceed the resources for coping with those demands. The type of job you have may also affect your ability to cope with stressors at work.
Workplace stress is often linked to excessive drinking and other unhealthy behaviors. Research has shown that stressed people at work are more likely to drink or smoke than others.
Working long hours and facing high-stress levels at work can deteriorate your physical health. Stress can cause:
- Fatigue and back pain
- Heart issues
- Insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Poor concentration and focus
- Loss of memory
- Poor cognitive performance
Other psychosocial hazards impact health as:
- Prolonged use of computers can hurt eyesight
- Sitting for long periods can develop swelling in your feet and legs
- Working on computers all day leads to bad posture, which can strain the spine and lead to back pain
- People under pressure at work may experience tension in their shoulders or upper back causing muscle spasms and headaches
- Physical hazards and health problems
Physical hazards are those that can cause injury or illness through contact, inhalation, or ingestion. If there are unsafe working conditions, such as exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances without proper protection or equipment, this may cause severe health problems for employees. Other physical hazards are electrical hazards, mechanical hazards, falls, noise, and vibration.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (like carpal tunnel syndrome or a back injury) may arise from physical hazards in the workplace
- Exposure to loud noise for a longer duration can lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Vibration causes fatigue on your arms and wrists
- Biological hazards and physical health issues
Biological hazards in the workplace include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. These organisms can be transmitted through air, water, food, and animals. Examples of biological hazards include contaminated water or food that causes diarrheal illness, airborne infectious agents like tuberculosis (TB) or influenza, and blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B.
Airborne contaminants released from manufacturing processes such as vinyl chloride monomer used in plastics may cause acute respiratory disease among workers exposed to this compound’s vapors during production.
Biological hazards may also be introduced into the workplace if infectious materials were used for cleaning purposes before disinfection was carried out properly, for example, using bleach instead of sodium hypochlorite solutions for cleaning purposes.
- Ergonomic health hazards
Ergonomic hazards are those that lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Several factors cause these, including repetitive motion, awkward postures, and forceful exertions.
The type of work you do plays an important role in your risk of developing MSDs. For example, repetitive tasks like assembly line work are more likely to cause injury because they repeatedly require the same movement pattern. It leads to muscle fatigue and other problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis over time if performed long enough at high speeds while not letting up on the pressure or stress level during these activities. Repetitive tasks also cause physical stress.
- Chemical hazards in the workplace
Chemical hazards are the most common type of workplace hazard. They can be found in many workplaces, like factories, laboratories, hospitals, and construction sites. Different chemicals are found in paints, pesticides, cleaning agents, dyes, and water treatment chemicals that can enter your body through inhalation or ingestion.
Chemicals may also get into contact with your skin and eyes if you touch them directly without wearing gloves or using protective equipment such as glasses or goggles.
Chemical hazards include flammable liquids and gases that can cause fires or explosions if your workplace lacks strategic planning to tackle them. Chemical hazards seriously risk your health, safety, and well-being.
- Electrical hazards and health issues
Electrical shocks, burns, and fires (both from direct contact with electricity and equipment malfunctioning) are common electrical hazards.
It happens when electricity passes through an open circuit into the body, causing death or serious injury to nearby tissues. Other types of electrocutions include those caused by faulty wiring within buildings where there is no protection against high voltage currents flowing through them. They also occur when electricians use tools such as screwdrivers while working around wires that contain live current flows.
Electrical accidents happen because workers are unaware of how dangerous their jobs can be until they are exposed to them.
Every workplace has several standard procedures, which can sometimes be hard to meet. It can result in taking a toll on your physical and mental well-being.
Understanding workplace hazards is the first step toward protecting yourself. As workers are exposed to several hazards in the workplace, the best way to avoid them is to be aware of them. Employers that understand the risks faced by their workers can develop a safety culture, implement risk management plans, and help employees to learn about working safely.