If you are going to carry out any sort of health and safety responsibilities, as an employer, or an employee, you need to know what a hazard is. Why? Because knowing what hazards are is critical to health and safety.
The first step of the 5 steps to risk assessment, identify hazards. And risk assessments are a legal requirement. But don't worry if you're not exactly sure what a hazard is, or even how it is different to a risk. By the end of this post, you will.
So, what is a hazard?
In health and safety, a hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm. It might not have harmed anyone yet. But if it could cause harm, then it is a hazard.
A potential source of danger.
So when someone refers to a hazard, or you are being asked to spot hazards, this means something that could cause harm. There could be many hazards in your workplace. A task or activity could involve multiple hazards. This doesn't mean you are any more likely to come to harm than an activity with few hazards.
A hazard could be a trailing cable in a corridor that someone could trip over. Or a loose leaning pile of bricks that could topple over. Or a sharp edge that could cut you. Or an obstacle at head height that you have to remember to duck under. Or a faulty light switch you know never to use. Or an icy path on a snowy morning.
Just because something has the potential to cause harm, doesn't mean it will harm you. It might be unlikely to harm you. And the harm it could cause might not be serious. Finding out the likelihood and severity of harm is what's known as risk, and that comes after you identify hazards.
How is a hazard different to a risk? Not sure? Find out in our blog post the difference between hazard and risk.
In fact, sometimes hazards are overlooked simply because they are unlikely to harm you. When you work around a hazard regularly, and it hasn't caused any harm, people can get complacent. Maybe you have been lucky. Or maybe that hazard is unlikely to cause harm. Or maybe it is causing harm, but you just don't realise it yet. Some health hazards, like asbestos and silica dust, take years for illness to develop.
A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm. Anything that might harm you, or others, is a hazard. Hazards come in many forms. A hazard could be a substance. It could be an item of equipment. It could be a material. It could even be other people.
Now we know the definition of a hazard, and what a health and safety hazard means. Let's look at some common examples of hazards that might be present in your workplace.
The work activities you carry out may create or introduce hazards. This is especially likely in higher risk work like construction, manufacturing and workshops. Your tasks might introduce hazards for you, but also if you work in remote environments, for other people and building occupants.
Certain substances and materials used in your business activities, or present in your workplace, can be hazardous to health. They might also be a safety hazard, for example, flammable or explosive substances. This type of hazard will often come under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, or their own regulations, e.g. asbestos.
The equipment that you use can also be a hazard. For example, ladders are often used for access, but are they a hazard? Absolutely. Work on ladders is a common cause of falls from height, which is one of the top 5 causes of workplace deaths and serious injuries.
Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. Common causes are falls from ladders and through fragile roofs.
Don't forget to spot hazards in your environment. These hazards might not always be created by the work you do. They could be related to the weather. Or caused by other work that is taking place. They might be changeable. They might sometimes be present, or always be there.
Remember, a hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm. What hazards can you spot in your workplace? Once you spot them, use our free risk assessment calculator to find out the risk level.