How to protect against physical hazards in the workplace

How to protect against physical hazards in the workplace

How to protect against physical hazards in the workplace

Protect against those unseen health and safety risks

You might think that physical hazards in the workplace would be reasonable easy to protect against. However, many are ‘invisible’. Because of this, they can be the toughest of the six workplace hazards you can easily avoid. In this article, you’ll learn what physical hazards are and how to protect your workers, customers, and visitors against them.

Identifying physical hazards

A physical hazard is an environmental factor that could cause harm. Examples include:

  • Radiation (microwaves, radio waves, EMFs etc.)
  • Sunlight or ultraviolet rays
  • Hot and cold temperature extremes
  • Noise

To decide whether an environmental factor constitutes a hazard, you should consider its effects on a person. In addition to the above ‘invisible’ physical hazards, you might also consider flammable objects or items that react violently to other environmental factors.

How do you assess the risk from physical hazards?

When conducting a health and safety risk assessment, you should assess the risks posed by physical hazards in the workplace by asking questions such as:

  • What environmental hazards are people exposed to in this workplace?
  • Do employees work with or near chemicals that could react and explode?
  • What are the short-term and long-term effects of working in this environment?
  • Are employees exposed to temperature extremes, and for how long?

How to reduce the risks from physical hazards in the workplace

There are a number of ways to reduce the risks of working in an environment with physical hazards. If it is possible to eliminate the risk, you should do so. However, if this is not possible or practical, then you should seek ways to minimise the risk. For example, you may put in place protective measures, such as anti-radiation screens, or ensure that all employees are sufficiently trained and follow safety procedures. Broadly speaking, risk mitigation falls into two areas:

  1. Administrative controls or risk mitigation
  2. Engineered controls or risk mitigation

Administrative controls focus on work processes and practices, putting in guidelines that increase safety. For example:

  • Reducing exposure by decreasing time spent exposed to the identified hazard, or by decreasing the amount of the environmental hazard handled
  • Ensuring that employees are given sufficient breaks to rest and recuperate from the physical hazard
  • Training of employees to recognise physical hazards and avoid them

Engineered controls focus on physical protection against physical hazards. For example:

Providing PPE to employees, such as ear defenders in high noise environments and hard hats on construction sites

  • Placing barriers between employees and physical hazards such as radiation
  • Ensuring proper ventilation in enclosed areas
  • Insulating in areas subject to temperature extremes

When deciding on whether you should employ administrative or engineered controls, or both, you should answer questions such as:

  • What protection is in place to protect people from extremes in temperature, radiation, or loud noise?
  • What procedures would reduce risk, such as time limits on working hours?
  • What PPE could help to protect employees against the risks posed by these physical hazards?

Avoid working alone whenever and wherever possible

One tip that reduces risk in most circumstances is to avoid putting your employees in a position where they are working alone, which:

  • Isolates them an employee from help should they require it
  • Reduces the ability to recognise physical risk
  • Decreases the response capability to physical risk

If working alone is unavoidable, then you should consider ways in which your employee can stay connected in case of emergency (such as two-way radios and a ‘check-in’ procedure)

Protect against physical hazards you can’t see as well as those you can

When you are conducting your workplace health and safety risk assessments, you must consider all risks and potential risks. These includes invisible physical hazards. These hidden risks can pose great danger to employees, either because of potential injury or consequences to long-term health. It is essential that you carry out effective risk assessments and plan your health and safety policy to comply with the law and keep your employees safe.

Protect your employees and your business from the risks of all physical hazards in the workplace. Contact Sentry today and discover the online intelligent system that will help your business remain Health and Safety compliant with minimum effort.

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