Identifying hazards in your workplace

Every workplace has hazards.

Simply put, a hazard is anything (including work practices or procedures) that has the potential to harm the health and safety of a person.

Some hazards are more likely to be present in some workplaces than others.

It is important for both Union Delegates and members to know and understand the hazards and risks associated with their workplace.

Types of hazards

There are many types of workplace hazards, which tend to come under four main categories:

  • Physical: e.g. light, ventilation, noise, air quality, temperature, manual tasks, electrical, slips, trips, and falls.
  • Chemical: e.g. dusts, fumes, cleaning chemicals, poisons, dangerous goods etc.
  • Biological: e.g. bacteria, viruses, moulds etc
  • Psychological: e.g. stress, violence, aggression, bullying, excessive workload and repetitive work.

Health risks associated with workplace hazards can include breathing problems, skin irritation, hearing damage, reduced wellbeing and damage to muscles, bones and joints.

Hazards can arise from:

  • work premises, including entry and exit
  • structures and buildings
  • work practices, work systems and shift work (including hazardous processes, psychological and fatigue-related hazards)
  • traffic and transport movements at a workplace (e.g. around the dock area)
  • hazardous manual tasks and ergonomics
  • physical working environment (e.g. heat, cold, noise etc)
  • confined spaces
  • violence, harassment, bullying, intimidation and/or aggression.

Examples of workplace hazards include:

  • manual handling e.g. pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting
  • work environment e.g. floor surfaces, noise, temperature
  • machinery
  • heat e.g. burns and scalds
  • electricity e.g. electrocution
  • harassment e.g. bullying and/or violence
  • hazardous substances e.g. chemicals, fumes
  • biological waste
  • skin penetrating injuries e.g. knife or syringe injuries
  • noise
  • confined space.

How to identify hazards

Identifying hazards in the workplace involve finding things and situations that could potentially cause harm to people.

There are numerous ways hazards can be identified. These include:

  • workplace inspections
  • safety audits
  • consultation between employees and employers
  • monitoring injury and illness records
  • health and environment monitoring
  • recording complaints
  • observation

How to prevent workplace hazards

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) (‘WHS Act’), a ‘person conducting the business or undertaking’ (PCBU) has the primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers at the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. Duties are also placed on officers of a PCBU, workers and other persons at a workplace.

The PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety; and
  • the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures; and
  • the provision and maintenance of safe systems of work; and
  • the safe use, handling, and storage of plant, structures and substances; and
  • the provision of adequate facilities for the welfare at work of workers in carrying out work for the business or undertaking, including ensuring access to those facilities; and
  • the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking; and
  • that the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored for the purpose of preventing illness or injury of workers arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.

The employer must eliminate any reasonably foreseeable risk to the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace. If this is not reasonably practicable they must take steps to control the risk using a range of methods.

What to do if you identify a hazard

Employees generally have a good understanding of their workplace as well as an understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. This enables employees to identify most hazards or potential hazards.

Employees can sometimes be afraid to speak up when they see a hazard or unsafe work practice.

You should never be afraid to report something or someone that you have identified as a hazard or risk.

For more information about workplace hazards, speak to your SDA Delegate, Health and Safety Representative or Committee member, or contact the Newcastle SDA office on 4961 4694.

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