|Hierarchy of hazard controls|
A physical hazard is a type of occupational hazard that involves environmental hazards that can cause harm with or without contact. Physical hazards include ergonomic hazards, radiation, heat and cold stress, vibration hazards, and noise hazards. Engineering controls are often used to mitigate physical hazards.
Physical hazards are a common source of injuries in many industries. They are perhaps unavoidable in certain industries, such as construction and mining, but over time people have developed safety methods and procedures to manage the risks of physical danger in the workplace. Employment of children may pose special problems.
An engineering workshop specialising in the fabrication and welding of components has to follow the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work regulations 1992. It is an employers duty to provide ‘all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work which protects him against one or more risks to his health and safety’. In a fabrication and welding workshop an employer would be required to provide face and eye protection, safety footwear, overalls and other necessary PPE.
Machines are commonplace in many industries, including manufacturing, mining, construction and agriculture, and can be dangerous to workers. Many machines involve moving parts, sharp edges, hot surfaces and other hazards with the potential to crush, burn, cut, shear, stab or otherwise strike or wound workers if used unsafely. Various safety measures exist to minimize these hazards, including lockout-tagout procedures for machine maintenance and roll over protection systems for vehicles. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, machine-related injuries were responsible for 64,170 cases that required days away from work in 2008. More than a quarter of these cases required more than 31 days spent away from work. That same year, machines were the primary or secondary source of over 600 work-related fatalities. Machines are also often involved indirectly in worker deaths and injuries, such as in cases in which a worker slips and falls, possibly upon a sharp or pointed object. Power tools, used in many industries, present a number of hazards due to sharp moving parts, vibrations, or noise. The transportation sector bears many risks for the health of commercial drivers, too, for example from vibration, long periods of sitting, work stress and exhaustion. These problems occur in Europe but in other parts of the world the situation is even worse. More drivers die in accidents due to security defects in vehicles. Long waiting times at borders cause that drivers are away from home and family much longer and even increase the risk of HIV infections.
Confined spaces also present a work hazard. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines "confined space" as having limited openings for entry and exit and unfavorable natural ventilation, and which is not intended for continuous employee occupancy. Spaces of this kind can include storage tanks, ship compartments, sewers, and pipelines. Confined spaces can pose a hazard not just to workers, but also to people who try to rescue them.
Noise also presents a fairly common workplace hazard: occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States, with 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise levels at work and an estimated $242 million spent annually on worker's compensation for hearing loss disability. Noise is not the only source of occupational hearing loss; exposure to chemicals such as aromatic solvents and metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury can also cause hearing loss. Naturally, noise is more of concern for certain occupations than others; musicians, mine workers, and construction workers  are exposed to higher and more constant levels of noise and therefore are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. Since noise-induced hearing loss, while entirely preventable, is permanent and irreversible, it is vital that companies and their employees are aware of limits and prevention methods available.
In the United States, noise is recognized as a hazard in the workplace by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Both organizations work to set and enforce standards for occupational noise exposure and ultimately prevent hearing loss. Examples of initiatives made by NIOSH to prevent the negative effects of noise exposure include the Buy Quiet program, which encourages employers to purchase machinery that produces lower noise levels, and the Safe-In-Sound Award, which was created to recognize organizations that excel in noise control.
Temperature extremes can also pose a danger to workers. Heat stress can cause heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps, and rashes. Heat can also fog up safety glasses or cause sweaty palms or dizziness, all of which increase the risk of other injuries. Workers near hot surfaces or steam also are at risk for burns. Dehydration may also result from overexposure to heat. Cold stress also poses a danger to many workers. Overexposure to cold conditions or extreme cold can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, or chilblains.
Vibrating machinery, lighting, and air pressure (high or low) can also cause work-related illness and injury. Asphyxiation is another potential work hazard in certain situations. Musculoskeletal disorders are avoided by the employment of good ergonomic design and the reduction of repeated strenuous movements or lifts. Ionizing (alpha, beta, gamma, X, neutron), and non-ionizing radiation (microwave, intense IR, RF, UV, laser at visible and non-visible wavelengths), can also be a potent hazard.
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The International Hazard Datasheets on Occupations is a multipurpose information resource containing information on the hazards, risks and notions of prevention related to a specific occupation. The datasheets are intended for those professionally concerned with health and safety at work.
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