Preventing environmental hazards is crucial to the success of any company regardless of the scale of operations or industry. The reduction and, if possible, elimination of workplace hazards serve a two-fold purpose. The first is to ensure the safety and protection of the employees working in your company. The second is compliance with the guidelines set by the Occupational Safety Health Act’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause, which states that employers are required to provide a safe workplace for their employees. That is, employees must have a safe working environment that protects them from the effects of environmental hazards, including death and serious personal injury.

What are workplace hazards?

OSHA describes a hazard as a risk or threat that is associated with a workplace environment or duty, which if neglected to be corrected may cause an injury or lead to illness for employees or customers. Federal law dictates that it is the obligation of employers to provide a secure and safe workplace. To fulfill this responsibility, employers must implement the necessary precautionary measures to pinpoint and eliminate potential workplace hazards.

Here are five types of environmental hazards that employers need to inform workers about.

1. Chemical hazards

Jobs that involve handling chemicals present health risks to the employees. Exposure to substances such as corrosives, fumes, vapors, liquids, and dust can be extremely harmful. This may lead to irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity. Hence, it is crucial for an employer to mitigate the risks through implementing safety protocols that minimize or even eliminate the possibility of employees inhaling or ingesting the substances as well as absorbing them through their skin.

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to educate their workers about the risks that come with handling chemicals. Safety data sheets and proper labels should be available to employees at all times. Worker training must include information about the nature of the chemicals they will be handling and the safety measures they must follow to protect themselves.

2. Biological hazards

Employees with roles that involve interacting with other people, animals, or contagious conditions are prime candidates for exposure to biological hazards. These risks include animal droppings, fungi, viruses, blood, and mold.

At construction sites, encountering biological hazards is more likely to happen in demolition, groundwork, or refurbishment. For example, workers in demolition sites could get exposed to dust or water contaminated by bird droppings. These could lead to various diseases such as histoplasmosis, a potentially fatal respiratory problem.

3. Unseen hazards

Working conditions that involve extreme heat or cold, spending long hours under the sun or ultraviolet rays, radiation, or constant exposure to loud noises pose the risk of injuring workers with or without any contact. A fairly common effect of this particular environmental hazard is occupational hearing loss among workers exposed to extremely loud noises. Millions have been afflicted by this condition, with employers shelling out substantial sums for workers’ compensation.

4. Ergonomic hazards

Manual laborers are at risk for ergonomic hazards, which can result in disabling injuries afflicting their joints and muscles. These injuries could be caused by unlabeled heavy loads, tools or objects stored in hard to reach places, and standing in awkward positions when completing tasks­—particularly those involving weighted loads.

OSHA has observed that ergonomic hazards are the most common health risk among workers in this industry. While ergonomic hazards could pose problems in terms of productivity in the workplace, these risks could also cause workers disabling and career-ending injuries.

5. Electrical hazards

Electric shocks have been identified as one of the root causes of falls from scaffolds and other platforms, with more than 20,000 workers injured in electrical accidents in their workplace in the past 20 years. The majority of electric hazards involve construction workers coming into contact with power cables located either underground or overhead, or when working at heights close to power lines. Incorrect handling of electrical tools or machinery contributed to these incidents as well. An increasing number of workers also suffer from electrocution because they are assigned electrical work despite not being qualified electricians.

Final thoughts

When it comes to environmental hazards, the age-old adage constantly rings true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A simple—yet critical—step employers can take to adhere to OSHA’s guidelines is to identify the risks in the workplace, inform employees on how to prevent environmental hazards, and complement these efforts through implementing precautionary measures. While there is a huge range of hazards in most workplaces, keeping an eye out for the five major dangers listed above is a great place to start.

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About the Author

Jon Knight

Jon Knight leads the NASP Team’s media creation department. He has been involved with workplace safety training since 2017 with a focus on course creation. He also provides video production and voiceovers for NASP content.
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