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Demystifying Hazard and Danger

Often we are confused and fail to understand their differences. The words ‘Hazard’ and ‘Danger’ both are synonymous. In English literature, both are used to indicate a similar context. For example, ‘his life was in danger’, ‘the hazards of childbirth’ etc. However, concerning occupational safety and health the most commonly used definitions are –

  • "Hazard" is something that has the potential to harm. In other words, hazard is anything that can cause injury, illness, property damage or loss of material.

  • “Danger” includes any existing or potential hazard or condition or any current or future activity that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person. Two key concepts are: “potential hazard or condition” and. “any current or future activity”.

In real application, “hazard” is usually used to refer to something extremely serious or very damaging. It is used in warning signs to indicate the severity of the situation. It is used to refer to dangers that are bigger and more serious while “danger” is used to generally refer to risky situations whether big or small. By contrast, a danger is something that can cause immediate negative reactions when you're exposed to it directly. Compared to the slow burn of hazardous materials, dangerous materials may be corrosive, flammable etc.

Often the effect of danger is also termed as hazard. For example, electricity is a danger but the effects of electricity like shock, fire & explosion are called hazards.

So far hazardous and dangerous substances are concerned often some sought of demarcation is made. As for example, hazard is considered risk through exposure or contact and danger is risk through a physical or chemical effect.

Whatsoever, we can use both hazard and danger to represent the same meaning and their signs are also interchangeable.

In the electrical panel, you will find the DANGER sign with a skull and two bones; you can replace the word DANGER with HAZARD. Similarly, the HAZARD word in the Hazard signage in the chemical storage place can be replaced by the word DANGER.

 Workplace Hazards:

A workplace health and safety hazard can be defined as activities, substances or processes that have the potential to cause an injury to an employee or could be harmful to their health. However, more generally, hazards can also be those that have an adverse effect on animals, property, equipment, or the environment.

There are various types of workplace hazards, which shall look out for:

1) Safety Hazards:

Sometimes confused with physical hazards, these are things that create an unsafe working environment. An example of a safety hazard would be a damaged handrail, a leak causing a slippery floor, a step in an unusual place, operating dangerous machinery or equipment, or something that may cause a fall from height. Safety hazards exist in all types of jobs but are more wide-ranging in industries such as construction and utilities where the risk of a slip, trip or fall is much greater.

Safety hazards are often sub-divided into -

  • Physical Hazards:

Safety hazards like slips, trips, falls and hits are the various forms of Physical Hazards. They generally directly generate the potential for physical injury like fracture, cut, wound etc.

  • Mechanical Hazards

Hazards caused by the mechanical movement of machinery

2) Electrical Hazards:

Hazards are caused by the use of electrical energy like shock, fire, explosion, electromagnetic radiation, involuntary reflex action etc. Involuntary Reflex Action causes incidents like persons falling from height and dropping of tools and objects. Many of us consider it a Safety Hazard.

3) Chemical hazards

Chemical Hazards refer to any forms of chemicals including medications, solutions, gases, vapors, aerosols, and particulate matter that are potentially toxic or irritating to the body system. The harmful substances e.g. liquids, solvents and gases can cause issues such as skin and respiratory irritation, blindness, corrosion, and explosions. Examples include paints, pesticides, carbon monoxide and acids. Those working in industrial cleaning, construction, manufacturing, or agriculture are likely to be affected by chemical hazards.

4) Ergonomic hazards

Ergonomic hazards are those that can cause musculoskeletal injuries (or strain on the body), for example, manual handling, vibrations, poor postures, or an inadequate workstation setup etc. These types of hazards sometimes cause problems over a protracted time so these are most commonly overlooked.

5) Environmental Hazards:

Hazards generated by the environment. These hazards are not always tangible, so this classification of hazard is an easy one to forget. They are things that can cause harm without visibly touching us. Examples include loud noise, radiation, pressure, extreme temperatures and even the sun’s rays. According to IOSH, over 1 million workers are exposed to noise that puts their hearing at risk and 17% suffer from tinnitus, hearing loss or other hearing issues. You can read more about this here.

6) Biological Hazards (Biohazards):

Biological hazards that can impact a worker’s health include animals and insects, viruses and bacteria, blood and bodily fluids, dust and mould spores, and certain types of plants. Understandably, those who work in sectors such as healthcare are commonly subject to biological hazards. However, the construction industry also sees its fair share of biological hazards; according to HSE, there are currently over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths per year.

7) Psychosocial Hazards:

These hazards relate to psychological factors and the social environment that can harm an employee’s well-being and mental health. This may include workload issues, stress, violence, abuse, and harassment. It’s important to look out for psychosocial hazards in any role but lone workers can be significantly affected as they can sometimes feel more isolated and there may not always be someone available to help if a problem occurs. Did you know that 14.7% of people experience mental health issues in the workplace?

 Hazardous Condition/ Hazardous Environment:

Hazardous conditions may appear, either suddenly or it may develop slowly, in industries or residential, commercial or even natural environments. Generally, the effects of Environmental, Psychological/Psychosocial, and Ergonomic hazards are slow in nature. Even, some safety hazards have delayed effects.

The hazardous operating environment may be limited to a part of an operating system, or the entire plant or locality or region. There are no limits, no bounds to hazards and emergencies. These are unwarranted conditions which need to be addressed appropriately and adequately, or else these may precipitate into catastrophes. Hazards cannot be anticipated one hundred percent, nor can these be firmly categorized. But they are not abstract phenomena, and therefore, an effective mechanism to mitigate or neutralize them needs to be available at hand and should be appropriately and effectively applied. This is possible through the application of a systematized manner in which hazards can be looked at and broadly categorized, to avoid confusion and delays in deploying appropriate mitigation measures.

 Predictability of Hazardous conditions:

Natural hazards such as flood, Fire etc. cannot be anticipated, but reasonable preparedness against these is expected as called for.

Additionally, there have been increasing possibilities of hazards due to human factors on account of the following reasons:–

a) Industrial functions are being carried out at ever-increasing levels of pressure, temperature and speed and machine or carrier failures often take place where either designed factors of safety and safe considerations are not adequate or where operational or component failure may take place.

b) There is more and more infusion of technological tools and apparatus in the hands of the common man who may overlook the basic operational or safety rules prescribed by the supplier or manufacturer.

c) New discoveries of Energy conversion procedures are being made and these may present operational challenges not foreseen clearly and operational errors may take place.

d) Encroachment or invasion of large number of semi-skilled, or unskilled, or ill informed, or recklessly adventurous humans who venture in the nature’s unknown depths without adequate safety preparations and get involved in hazardous situations calling for organized rescue operations.

e) Defiance and disrespect of rules in general e.g. smoking at prohibited places and throwing cigarette subs on flammable medium.

Due to the above factors the possibilities of Hazards and disasters are increasing and predictability of where and how these will strike is reducing.

It is said that the hazard is omnipresent. If it is so, why are we so much concerned with it?

There are three important factors which decide about the hazard and with minimum its minimum effect of damage.

  • First is, to correctly identify hazardous conditions and hazardous environments in the very initial stage. (Hazard Identification)

  • Secondly, to assess accurately the gravity of the hazard so that appropriate tools, instruments, and methodology can be applied for mitigation. (Risk Assessment)

  • The third, the most important and often ignored factor is that, based on the assessment of the hazard, a correct decision needs to be taken, whether or not to press the panic button and to what extent one needs to go into panic mode. (Quantum of risk – can be both qualitative and quantitative)

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