Definition & Examples Of “Hazards,” and “Exposures”
What is a Hazard?
Before we study identifying, analyzing and controlling hazards in the workplace, it’s important to know how OSHA defines the term. OSHA usually defines a hazard as, “a danger which threatens physical harm to employees.” Expanding on that basic definition we can think of a hazard as an: unsafe workplace conditions or practices (dangers) that could cause injuries or illnesses (harm) to employees.“
A hazard may be an object (tools, equipment, machinery, materials) or a person (when distracted, mentally/physically incapable). It’s important to know that a hazard is only one part in the “accident formula” above. It takes a hazard and exposure to the hazard before an accident can occur.
I’ll bet if you look around your workplace, you’ll be able to locate a few hazardous conditions or work practices without too much trouble. Did you know that at any time an OSHA inspector could announce his or her presence at your corporate front door to begin a comprehensive inspection. What would they find? What do they look for? Now, if you used the same inspection strategy as an inspector, wouldn’t that be smart? Let’s look at some information contained in OSHA’s Field Compliance Manual, Chapter 3, relating to hazards and exposure.
What is “Exposure?”
Exposure is generally defined as “the condition of being exposed,” or as “a position in relation to a hazard.”
Physical Exposure: We may think of this form of exposure as “arm’s length” exposure. If any part of the body can be injured as a result of proximity to a danger zone, physical exposure exists. For instance, if an employee removes a guard and works around moving parts that could cause an injury, that employee is exposed.
Environmental Exposure: An employee may suffer from environmental exposure no matter how far away from the source of the hazard he or she might be. For instance, if an employee uses a loud saw all day, everyone working around the saw may be exposed to hazardous levels of noise and suffer from environmental exposure.
Potential Exposure: The possibility that an employee could be exposed to a hazardous condition exists when the employee can be shown to have access to the hazard. Potential employee exposure could include one or more of the following:
- When a hazard has existed, and could recur because of work patterns, circumstances, or anticipated work requirements and it is reasonably predictable that employee exposure could occur.
- When a hazard would pose a danger to employees simply by employee presence in the area and it is reasonably predictable that an employee could come into the area during the work, to rest or to eat at the jobsite, or to enter or to exit from the assigned workplace.
- When a hazard is associated with the use of unsafe machinery or equipment or arises from the presence of hazardous materials and it is reasonably predictable that an employee could use the equipment or be exposed to the hazardous materials during work.