What is a Hazard?

According to definitions by COSHH a hazard in the workplace is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone. UK businesses and organisations have the legal duty to protect all individuals from hazards in the workplace, ensuring it remains a safe environment to work in.

When it comes to defining a hazard, particularly when it is involved in the workplace, it is most commonly considered as any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone. It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that the workplace is free from hazards to protect the safety of all work associates, staff and customers. The UK has implemented specific legislation to ensure employers abide by their health and safety duties; this includes: The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Where can hazards occur in the workplace?

To define hazards in the workplace, a risk assessment can be conducted by the designated health and safety team used to examine the workplace. To identify a hazard, you can use the following identification method: a substance, practice or material that could inflict harm or adverse health effects upon an individual. For example, a hazardous process could be welding. If an individual in your workplace carries out welding improperly they could contract metal fume fever. If as an employer you have not ensured that the individual that is welding is protected with appropriate protective equipment, then you will be held responsible for the adverse health effects contracted by the individual in the aftermath.

Moreover, if an individual in your workplace is in contact or handling the substance benzene, there is the potential to fall ill with leukemia. Thus, as an employer you need to ensure that all hazards are identified and the appropriate control measures to protect against these hazards are in place to protect all individuals involved.

Hazards are now not simply regarded as physical objects, substances or processes. Since May 2018 the debate and light shed upon hazards in mental health has increased. It has been considered that workplace stress should also be regarded as a safety hazard in the workplace. A report was conducted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) which published results which showed that a third of people in the UK were experiencing suicidal thoughts following a stress epidemic. This is following individuals feeling unable to cope with the stress that the workplace has inflicted upon them, leading to self-harm and suicidal feeling.

Following the MHF report, there have been calls for psychological hazards to receive the same treatment as physical hazards in the workplace. This has included calls for appropriate control measures of each hazard to be implemented. Moreover, a minimum of two mental health days have been suggested especially for staff within the public sector such as teachers, nurses and police officers.

Hazards, whether they are physical or psychological, have the ability to injure or stimulate adverse health effects to an individual in the workplace. Repercussions for failing to protect individuals in the workplace are not administered lightly. The health and safety watchdogs in the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be responsible for administering repercussions against an employer. The individual responsible for failing to administer health and safety matters could face prosecution by the HSE, a hefty fine or imprisonment.

As an employer, to avoid the repercussions administered by the HSE and to keep your organisation’s reputation intact, it is always wise to ensure you are fulfilling your health and safety duties to the best degree. Therefore, training and knowledge of all UK related health and safety legislation is important in the workplace.

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