Definitions Of Terms Used In Occupational Health And Safety

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a critical area of concern for employers, employees, and regulatory bodies across industries. OHS involves identifying, assessing, and managing workplace risks and hazards to ensure workers’ safety, health, and well-being. However, navigating the world of OHS can be challenging, as it involves a wide range of technical terms and concepts.

Therefore, this blog will provide clear and concise definitions of some of the essential terms used in OHS. Whether you are a seasoned safety professional or new to the field, this blog will help you to better understand the language and concepts of OHS and ultimately enhance your ability to keep your workplace safe and healthy.

Importance Of Understanding Key Terms In Occupational Health And Safety

Understanding key occupational health and safety terms is essential for creating a safe and healthy work environment. Employers and employees need to be aware of the potential hazards in their workplace and the necessary precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses. Communication and collaboration can be challenging without a common understanding of the language used in occupational health and safety, increasing the risk of accidents, injuries, and illnesses.

Here are some reasons why understanding key terms in occupational health and safety is crucial:

  • Promotes workplace safety: Knowing and using correct terms related to hazards, injuries, and controls can help employees and employers identify and eliminate workplace hazards, prevent accidents and injuries, and create a safer work environment.
  • Enhances compliance with regulations: Regulatory agencies such as OSHA and NIOSH use specific terminology in their standards and guidelines. Understanding these terms can help employers comply with regulatory requirements and avoid penalties and fines.
  • Facilitating communication: A shared understanding of occupational health and safety terminology enables effective communication between employees, employers, safety professionals, and other stakeholders. This can help identify potential hazards, create effective safety programs, and facilitate problem-solving.
  • Promotes employee engagement: Educating employees on occupational health and safety terms and concepts can increase their engagement and participation in safety programs. This can lead to a culture of safety where employees take ownership of their safety and well-being and help create a safe work environment.

In summary, understanding key terms in occupational health and safety is essential for promoting workplace safety, enhancing compliance with regulations, facilitating communication, and promoting employee engagement. By ensuring that everyone in the workplace has a common understanding of these terms, employers can create a safer and healthier work environment.

Definitions Used In Occupational Health And Safety

Definitions Of Terms Used In Occupational Health And Safety

Understanding basic occupational health and safety definitions is crucial for any meaningful discussion of health and safety issues in the workplace. Here are some important terms and definitions to keep in mind:

1. Health

Health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It is a fundamental human right and a key component of sustainable development. The protection of the health of workers is an essential aspect of occupational health and safety.

Health protection involves identifying and preventing workplace hazards that can lead to illness or injury. This includes ensuring workers have access to safe working conditions, equipment, and procedures and providing education and training on workplace health and safety. It also involves monitoring workers’ health through health surveillance programs and providing medical care and support to workers who become ill or injured on the job.

2. Safety

Safety is the state of being free from harm or danger. In the workplace, safety refers to protecting workers from physical harm, injury, or illness while on the job. It involves identifying and controlling workplace hazards, such as machinery, equipment, chemicals, or environmental conditions, that can cause harm.

Safety is closely related to health, as both are concerned with protecting workers’ physical and mental well-being. While health focuses on preventing illness or injury from workplace processes, materials, or procedures, safety focuses on preventing physical harm or injury from workplace hazards.

3. Welfare

Welfare refers to providing facilities, services, and amenities necessary to maintain workers’ health, well-being, and comfort in the workplace. It includes a range of facilities such as sanitation, restrooms, drinking water, heating, lighting, seating, eating facilities, and first-aid arrangements.

Welfare facilities are important for promoting a healthy and productive workplace. They help ensure that workers are comfortable and safe and can meet their basic needs while on the job. They can also help improve worker morale and job satisfaction, increasing productivity and reducing turnover rates.

4. Hazard

A hazard refers to any potential source or situation in the workplace that has the potential to cause harm, injury, or damage to workers, property, or the environment. Hazards can be physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic, or psychosocial in nature, and they can arise from various sources such as machinery, equipment, materials, processes, work organization, and human behavior. Identifying and managing workplace hazards is important to occupational health and safety to prevent accidents, injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

5. Risk

Risk refers to the probability or likelihood of harm or injury due to exposure to a hazard. In occupational health and safety, risk is the chance of an adverse event or outcome in the workplace, such as injury, illness, or property damage.

Risk is influenced by various factors, including the type and severity of the hazard, the frequency and duration of exposure, and the vulnerability of the individuals exposed to the hazard. Risk can be quantified or expressed in the probability or frequency of occurrence, the severity of harm, or a combination of both.

Health And Safety Definitions

6. Occupational Health

Occupational Health is a branch of public health that focuses on the identification and prevention of hazards in the workplace that may cause injury, illness, or disease. It is concerned with promoting and maintaining workers’ physical, mental, and social well-being in all occupations.

Occupational health aims to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses by identifying and evaluating workplace hazards and developing strategies to control or eliminate them. This can involve various activities, including risk assessments, health surveillance, and developing policies and procedures to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy.

7. Accident

An accident is an unplanned or unforeseen event that results in injury, damage, or loss. It is an incident that occurs unexpectedly and can have negative consequences. Accidents can happen anywhere and anytime, including in the workplace, on the road, at home, or in public places.

In occupational health and safety, an accident is an event that results in injury or illness to a worker while on the job. It may also refer to an event that damages property, equipment, or the environment. Accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, such as human error, equipment failure, environmental conditions, or a combination of these factors.

8. Near Miss

A near miss is an incident that could have resulted in an accident or injury but was narrowly avoided. It is an unplanned event that could potentially cause harm but did not result in any harm or damage. Near misses are often considered an important indicator of potential safety hazards and risks in the workplace and can provide valuable information to help prevent future accidents.

The knowledge of near misses is critical in identifying potential safety hazards and preventing future accidents. By investigating and analyzing near misses, employers can identify areas where safety improvements can be made and take corrective action to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

9. Dangerous Occurrence

A dangerous occurrence is a specific type of incident defined in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). It is an incident that results in a specific, serious outcome, such as a death, major injury, or serious damage to equipment or property.

Under RIDDOR, employers, self-employed individuals, and those in control of work premises have a legal duty to report dangerous occurrences to the relevant enforcing authority, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as soon as possible after the incident has occurred. Examples of dangerous occurrences that must be reported include:

  • The collapse or failure of load-bearing equipment, such as a crane or scaffolding
  • An explosion or fire causing damage or destruction
  • The uncontrolled release of a harmful substance, such as a toxic gas or biological agent
  • A dangerous incident involving electrical equipment or machinery

10. Environmental Protection

Environmental protection refers to protecting the natural environment and promoting sustainable use of resources to maintain a healthy and safe environment for present and future generations. It involves taking measures to prevent or reduce the negative impact of human activities on the environment, such as air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, and deforestation.

Health And Safety Terms And Definitions

11. Workplace

The term “workplace” refers to any physical location where work is carried out, whether indoors or outdoors, temporary or permanent, and can include various types of workplaces, such as offices, factories, construction sites, warehouses, retail stores, and many others. Ensuring the workplace is safe and healthy for workers and meeting all relevant occupational health and safety regulations and standards is important.

12. Occupational Illness

Occupational illness refers to any disease, disorder, or medical condition caused or worsened by exposure to hazards in the workplace. These hazards can include physical, chemical, biological, or psychological factors affecting workers’ health and well-being. Examples of occupational illnesses include lung diseases caused by exposure to dust, asbestos, or other toxic substances, repetitive strain injuries, hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise, skin diseases caused by exposure to irritants, and mental health disorders caused by stress or other workplace factors.

13. Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the scientific study of how people interact with their work environment, including equipment, tools, and furniture, with the aim of optimizing performance, safety, and comfort while minimizing the risk of injuries and health problems. Ergonomics aims to design work environments that fit workers’ physical and mental capabilities rather than forcing workers to adapt to the work environment.

Examples of ergonomic interventions include adjusting the height of workstations, providing adjustable chairs and footrests, using tools that reduce strain on the hands and wrists, and designing work processes that minimize repetitive movements and awkward postures.

14. PPE

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, which refers to any clothing, equipment, or gear designed to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. PPE can include gloves, safety glasses, earplugs, helmets, respirators, and protective clothing. PPE is important in preventing occupational injuries and illnesses, as it provides a barrier between workers and hazards.

15. Hazardous Substances

Hazardous substances refer to any chemical, biological, or physical agent that has the potential to cause harm to the health or safety of workers. Hazardous substances include toxic chemicals, biological agents such as viruses or bacteria, radiation, noise, vibration, and extreme temperatures. Hazardous substances can cause various health problems, from acute injuries such as burns or poisoning to chronic conditions such as cancer or respiratory diseases.


A thorough understanding of the terminology used in occupational health and safety is crucial for ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. It helps to promote clear communication between employers, employees, and regulators and enhances the effectiveness of safety policies and procedures. By knowing the meaning of terms such as hazard, risk, PPE, ergonomics, and many others, individuals can better identify and assess potential hazards and take appropriate measures to prevent accidents and injuries.

As workplaces continue to evolve and new hazards emerge, staying informed about occupational health and safety terminology is essential for maintaining a safe and healthy working environment for all.