Open your health and safety manual and two words that will appear frequently will be “hazard” and “risk”. They are often used interchangeably; however they each mean something very different. Is a wet floor in a workplace a hazard or a risk? Knowing what each of these terms means, and using them properly can help you better address workplace health and safety issues.
There are many definitions for hazard but the most common when talking about workplace health and safety is that a hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone. Some examples are: a wet floor, direct exposure to the sun, or exposure to toxic chemicals.
The CSA Z1002 Standard "Occupational health and safety - Hazard identification and elimination and risk assessment and control" defines harm as physical injury or damage to health and hazard as a potential source of harm to a worker.
Workplace hazards can come from a wide range of sources, such as a substance, product, process, or practice that can cause harm or an adverse health effect to a person or property. Examples include, a sharp knife, the process of welding, or bullying. These are considered hazards because they can cause harm. Knives cause cuts, welding fumes can cause metal fume fever, and bullying can have the effect of anxiety, fear and depression on the victim.
Practices or conditions that could release uncontrolled energy are also considered workplace hazards. For example, an object that could fall from a height is considered a hazard. When the object falls, it gains momentum from gravity and it could seriously harm whatever or whomever the object lands on. The potential entanglement of hair or clothing in rotating equipment caused by kinetic energy is another example of this type of hazard.
It can help to think of hazards in groups. Categories for classifying hazards include:
- biological - bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans, etc.
- chemical - depends on the physical, chemical and toxic properties of the chemical
- ergonomic - repetitive movements, improper set up of workstation, etc.
- physical - radiation, magnetic fields, pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum), noise, etc.
- psychosocial - stress, violence, etc.
- safety - slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns
Risk is the chance or probability that a person will be harmed, or experience an adverse health effect, if exposed to a hazard. For example there is a risk of slipping on the wet floor and breaking a bone, or developing skin cancer from long-term exposure to the sun. It may also apply to situations with property or equipment loss, or harmful effects on the environment.
It’s important to note that risk is not the same for everyone and there are many factors that influence the degree of risk. These factors include how much a person is exposed to a hazard (such as how many times a day a person walks across a wet floor or the level of exposure to hazardous products a worker experiences). The level of risk also depends on both the nature of the hazard and the nature of the exposure. For example, a product with a low hazard can pose a high risk if exposure is high. A product with a high hazard can sometimes pose less risk if exposure is low. However, the overall goal is to minimize exposure to hazards, and thereby minimize the risk.
We know that certain workplace conditions and work practices have the potential to cause incidents, injuries, or illness. Hazard identification is the process of finding, listing, and characterizing these hazards. Missing machine guards, chemical spills, poor workstation design, mould, and inadequate ventilation are just some of the many hazards that can be found in a workplace.
If a hazard is identified, you can work towards eliminating that hazard or work towards controlling the risk associated with that hazard by using a hierarchy of control methods.
The health and safety committee has a role to play by helping to recognize hazards and making recommendations for improvement. The committee’s responsibilities may also include helping to determine the possible causes of health conditions reported by employees, informing employees about potential and actual hazards, recommending control measures to management, and participating in evaluating the effectiveness of control measures in ensuring a safe workplace.
A risk assessment considers the identification of hazards, and the analysis and evaluation of the risk. A risk assessment is the process where you:
- identify hazards and risk factors that have the potential to cause harm (hazard identification),
- analyze and evaluate the risk associated with that hazard (risk analysis, and risk evaluation), and
- determine appropriate ways to eliminate the hazard, or control the risk when the hazard cannot be eliminated (risk control).
A hazard is anything in the workplace that has the potential to cause damage, harm or adverse health effects to someone or to cause harm to something. Risk is the chance or probability that a person will be harmed if exposed, or the probability of damage or loss. Health and safety hazards vary greatly depending on what the workplace does, and the type of work involved.
Every workplace has hazards. To help protect the health and safety of workers, it’s important that you identify the hazards and conduct risk assessments. And it all starts with understanding the difference between a hazard and a risk.
- Hazard and Risk fact sheet, CCOHS
- Health and Safety Committees Reference Guide publication, CCOHS
- Chemical Factsheets: Hazard Vs Risk: What is the difference?, Assembly of First Nations
- Risk versus Hazard, Health Canada
- CAN/CSA-Z1002-12 - Occupational health and safety - Hazard identification and elimination and risk assessment and control, CSA Group
Tips & Tools
It can confuse the senses: shampoo that smells like green apples; clean laundry freshness that mimics fields of wildflowers and underarm deodorant packed with the fragrance of an ocean breeze. Although they may smell pleasant, for your coworkers with sensitivities to scent, the fragrances found in countless products including soaps, detergents, personal care products, and household cleaners, may come with unpleasant health effects.
For people with fragrance sensitivities, the chemicals in fragrances can cause irritation or trigger allergic reactions. Depending on how sensitive they are, they may experience symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, itchy skin, hives, itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, wheezing, coughing, sore throat, breathing difficulties, and/or asthma. Reactions to fragrances can vary from one person to the next, however once a person has developed fragrance sensitivity, it may continue to get worse over time and with repeated exposure.
The person wearing scents can be affected by them as well as anyone they come into contact with. This can create a challenge in the workplace where people interact or sit in close proximity of one another. Promote the “arm’s length” rule: that no scent should be detectable at more than an arm’s length from the individual.
One of the best ways to prevent reactions to fragrances is to avoid exposure to them, although this is difficult to do with the number of chemical fragrances contained in the products we use every day. Look for products labelled “perfume free” or “fragrance free”, which are the most likely to contain no fragrances. An “unscented” product may not have a detectable scent but it may contain a trace amount of fragrance to mask scent. Fragrances added to products are not always labelled as ingredients; fragrance formulas are often well guarded trade secrets which companies prefer not to share.
How you can accommodate scent sensitivities in your workplace
When fragrance chemicals are suspected to be affecting someone’s health, follow these steps to clear the air of scents:
- Adopt a scent-free or scent-reduced policy for your workplace
- Post a sign at the entranceways of your workplace to remind visitors and employees that the building or office is “scent free”, or to be aware that fragrances can aggravate or cause health issues for people with sensitivities or other health conditions.
- Encourage all employees to use scent-free products and wherever possible, choose scent-free products for the workplace.
- Reduce emissions from building materials, cleaning products and other sources of fragrances if possible.
- Maintain good indoor air quality (ventilation) to prevent scents from being spread throughout the building.
- When all else fails, consider relocating the workstations of highly sensitized people to minimize their exposure to the offending scents.
You should inform your employees about the issue of scents sensitivities and help them understand how fragrances can impact the health of their coworkers. Ask for their assistance in maintaining a fragrance-free workplace – so that all may be able to breathe easy.
Learn more about the health effects of fragrances and how to set up a scent-free policy for the workplace from CCOHS
Learn about scents and indoor air quality from The Lung Association
Download the free Air Aware poster from CCOHS
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the new episode Focusing on Repetitive Strain Injuries and an encore presentation of Bad Vibrations.
Feature Podcast: Focusing on Repetitive Strain Injuries
CCOHS shines the spotlight on repetitive strain injuries: what they are, their symptoms and causes, and how they can be prevented.
The podcast runs 6:28 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Vibrations in the Workplace
While the human body is built to be mobile, it was not meant to vibrate. In small doses, vibration is harmless. Unfortunately, mechanization has introduced significant vibration hazards to the workplace. Although injuries and illness from vibration are preventable, the effects of regular and frequent exposure to vibration can be disabling and permanent. This podcast discusses causes and symptoms of hand-arm and whole body vibrations, and what employers and employees can do to address the risks.
The podcast runs 6:14 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Do you know the difference between sex and gender, and why they matter? In order to create safe and healthy workplaces, we must understand how both the physical (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences between women, men and gender-diverse people influence work and health, and how to apply this knowledge to improve occupational health and safety activities.
To help bridge the gap between gender, sex, and health, and their impact on the workplace, the CCOHS has launched the Gender, Work and Health web portal.
The web portal provides a single point of access to a clearinghouse of links to some of the most current and credible information, research, resources and tools on topics related to sex, gender, health and work. These topics include gender differences in workplace injury and illness, gaps in knowledge and improving risk prevention.
Sex and gender play an important role in workplace health and safety. For example, gender roles and relations impact the division of labour both in the workplace and outside working hours. Biological differences between male and females in terms of height, weight or muscle can influence a worker’s risk of certain injuries and their severity. In order to create safe and healthy workplaces, we need to understand how gender and sex influence work and health, and integrate gender into occupational safety and health activities.
This web portal is intended to help those working in occupational health and safety better understand how sex and gender influence work and health, and lead to policies, practices and processes that protect the health and wellness of all workers.
CCOHS created the web portal as a result of its knowledge translation partnership with the Institute of Gender and Health’s Gender, Work and Health Chair Program.
Visit the Gender, Work and Health web portal
National Day of Mourning April 28
April 28th is the National Day of Mourning in Canada.
This day is set aside to pay tribute to those workers across Canada whose lives have been lost, injured or disabled on the job, or who suffer from occupational diseases. The Day of Mourning is an opportunity for employers and workers to not only remember, but also to publicly renew their commitment to preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths and making workplaces safe and healthy for all.
Show your commitment with the new poster that is available for free download (or order the print version), commemorative pins and stickers.
Steps for Life Walk Kicks Off April 29
Beginning April 29, 2017 in cities across Canada, the Steps for Life 5 KM Walk will start the warm up for North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week. The event is not only fun, it also helps spread the message that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. Steps for Life is the major fundraising event for Threads of Life, a national charitable organization dedicated to supporting families who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering illness or occupational disease along their journey of healing.
On May 7th, our CCOHS team will once again be walking in the Hamilton event along the shores of Lake Ontario. Dates and times for the walks vary across the country. Find the one closest to you and put your team together. It will be a day to remember.
Learn more about how you can participate on the Steps for Life website.
North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) Week May 7-13
With the theme of Make Safety a Habit organizations all over North America are planning their activities for Safety and Health Week. It is a time in which attention turns to the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community. You can post your event on the NAOSH.ca website or find an event close by to participate in. CCOHS will be in Ottawa at the national launch to announce the Focus on Safety Youth Video Contest national winners. All of the winning videos from youth across the country will be available online. Why not have a film fest to view these informative, creative videos? Stay tuned for further details on how CCOHS can help you celebrate NAOSH Week in your workplace.
Learn more about the National Day of Mourning.
Download free Day of Mourning posters and order Day of Mourning pins and stickers.
Visit the Health and Safety (NAOSH) Week website and get inspired.
Learn more about Threads of Life and find a walk close to you
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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