What are Physical Hazards
A physical hazard are simply hazards that can cause physical harm. They can be classified as type of occupational hazard or environmental hazard. Physical hazards include ergonomic hazards, radiation, heat and cold stress, vibration hazards, and noise hazards. They are the most common and are present in most workplaces at one time or another. These include unsafe conditions that can cause injury, illness and death.
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.
Physical Hazards Examples
There are several examples of physical hazards, but few will be highlighted here.
- Temperature: Both very cold and very hot temperatures can be dangerous to your health. In a very hot environment, the most serious concern is heat stroke, and in a cold environment, hypothermia and frostbite. While there is no maximum temperature specified, legislation does include a range of acceptable temperatures for various circumstances.
- Indoor Air Quality: Common causes of indoor air problems include inadequate temperature, lack of humidity or lighting; exposure to chemicals, dusts, gases, vapours and odours; or a lack of fresh air from the ventilation system. People generally develop symptoms within a few hours of starting the workday and feel better after leaving the building.
- Noise: Noise is one of the most common workplace health hazards. In heavy industrial and manufacturing environments, as well as in farms, cafeterias, permanent hearing loss is the main health concern. Annoyance, stress and interference with speech communication are the main concerns in noisy offices, schools and computer rooms.
- Radiation: Sunlight is the greatest source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Man-made UV sources include UV lamps, arc welding, and mercury vapour lamps. UV radiation is widely used in industrial processes and in medical and dental practices for a variety of purposes. Excessive exposure to UV radiation is associated with skin cancer, sunburn, accelerated skin aging, and eye disease.
- Compressed Gas: Leaks and ruptures can cause asphyxiation or turn the gas cylinder into a projectile.Compressed gas cylinders must be restrained in an upright position in the lab at 1/3 and 2/3 the height of the tank, preferably with chains.Caps must be in place when cylinder is not in use.Make sure regulator and supply lines are in good condition.
Never use rigid plastic tubing, which can shatter if the pressure limits are exceeded.
When turning on the gas,
- Ensure that the flow valve is open (so there will be no pressure in the supply line). Adjust flow valve only after you have opened the regulator.
- Turn your head away from the tank
- Vibration: Vibration has long been recognized as a serious occupational hazard. Continuously repeated exposure to high levels of vibration results in injuries or illnesses. Vibration exposure is classified into two general types: hand-arm and whole-body vibration. Hand-arm vibration causes direct injury to the fingers and hand and affects feeling, dexterity, and grip of the hand. It is a known causative factor for other ergonomic-related fatalities. Hand-arm vibration injury associated with use of appliances or equipment with vibration such as grinders, impact drills, chipping hammers, pavement breakers, dental tools, sanders, air-powered wrenches, and saws of all types. Repeated long time use of vibrating machinery results in long-term effects- independent vascular, neurosensory and musculoskeletal disorders of the hand and arm which is known as Hand-arm vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Whole-body vibration is one of the most common causes of lost time and production output and causes low back pain and injury and due to higher than expected levels of vibration. Whole-body vibration injuries associated with off-road vehicles in industries such as agriculture, forestry, mining, quarrying and with small-fast boats used off-shore.A Combination of control measures such as redesigning the appliances to reduce vibration exposure, using machines that are designed to decrease the vibration transmitted to the operator, implementing speed limits, scheduling regular work breaks, posture changes or job rotation to reduce exposure time, providing training, information and supervision on adjusting and operating equipment can be used for successful vibration exposure reduction.
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- Sunlight: Sunlight is the most commonly known physical hazard which affects the people who work outside. Outdoor workers get highest sunlight exposure during high-intensity hours between 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and during the summertime. The risk of getting sunburned is more throughout these times. Some commonly used medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), antihistamines, tetracycline, thiazides, sulfa antibiotics, and diuretics increase sensitivity to sunlight and resulting in skin rashes and sunburn. Moreover, sunlight is a source of ultraviolet (UV) rays which are the form of non-ionizing radiation. UV rays directly from sunlight and indirect sun exposure, such as light reflected by snow and light-shaded sand can penetrate worker’s uncovered skin. Long time, continuous exposure to ultraviolet radiation results in suppression of the immune system, eye damage, skin aging, and skin cancer. Some non-solar sources of UV radiation, for example, projection lamps, the curing of paints and inks, equipment disinfectant used in hospitals, fluorescent tubes, sunlamps, and welding arcs, can also cause adverse health effects in other workers.Personal protective equipment, engineering, and administrative controls such as the provision of shade cover, and rotating job shifts can minimize the risk of sun exposure for outdoor workers. In case of non-solar sources of UV radiation, suitable engineering controls and administrative controls such as safety signs and training of employees can useful.
Physical Hazard Examples in Food
Common sources of physical hazards in food include:
- Glass: light bulbs, glass containers and glass food containers
- Metal: fragments from equipment such as splinters, blades, needles, utensils, staples, etc.
- Plastics: material used for packaging, fragments of utensils used for cleaning equipment
- Stones: incorporated in field crops, such as peas and beans, during harvesting
- Wood: splinters from wood structures and wooden pallets used to store or transport ingredients or food products
- Natural components of food: hard or sharp parts of a food (ex: shells in nut products) if consumers do not expect them
Physical Hazard at Workplace
- Body stressing
- Confined spaces
- Slippery floors
- Objects in walkways
- Unsafe or misused machinery
- Poor lighting
- Flammable gases
- Flammable aerosols
- Oxidizing gases
- Gases under pressure
- Flammable liquids
- Flammable solids
- Self-reactive substances and mixtures
- Pyrophoric liquids
- Pyrophoric solids
- Self-heating substances and mixtures
- Substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
- Oxidizing liquids
- Oxidizing solids
- Organic peroxides
- Corrosive to metals
- Combustible dusts
- Simple asphyxiants
- Pyrophoric gases
- Magnetic fields
- Pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum)
- Physical hazards not otherwise classified
READ ALSO: What are natural hazards? Categories & Types
Physical Hazard Categories
In this table, physical hazards are categorized into some category based on GHS (Globally Harmonized System) classification standard.
|Hazard Class||Associated Hazard Category|
|Explosives||Divisions 1.1-1.6 (with 1.1 being the most hazardous, 1.6 the least hazardous)|
|Flammable gases||Categories 1 and 2|
|Flammable aerosols||Categories 1 and 2|
|Oxidizing gases||Category 1|
|Gases under pressure||4 Groups include: Compressed gas, Liquefied gas, Dissolved gas, and Refrigerated liquefied gas|
|Flammable liquids||Categories 1 – 4|
|Flammable solids||Categories 1 and 2|
|Self-reactive substances||Types A-G|
|Pyrophoric solids||Category 1|
|Pyrophoric liquids||Category 1|
|Self-heating substances||Categories 1 and 2|
|Substances which in contact with water emit flammable gases||Categories 1 – 3|
|Oxidizing liquids||Categories 1 – 3|
|Oxidizing solids||Categories 1 – 3|
|Organic peroxides||Types A-G|
|Substances corrosive to metal||Category 1|
Physical Hazard Symbol
Here are some physical Hazard Symbols:
How to Prevent Physical Hazards
To prevent and/or control physical hazards, take the following steps:
Provide safety equipment to employees that reduces their exposure to the physical safety hazard
Reduce noises and vibrations present in the workplace
Place barriers between employees and physical hazards such as radiation or microwaves
Provide proper ventilation and air conditioning for employees
Insulate any surfaces that could be prone to extremes in temperature
Ensure handling of smaller quantities of dangerous and reactive chemicals
Ensure that workers spend less time in areas of exposure
Ensure workers Work away from noise when possible
Provide employees with rest breaks away from physical hazards
Train employees to recognize and avoid physical hazards
Physical Hazards in Laboratory
Laboratory hazards include not only chemical and biological hazards but physical hazards as well. These include, but are not limited to, slips, trips, and falls, sharps, compressed gases, pressurized equipment, electrical equipment, lasers, radiation, mechanical hazards, noise, and thermal hazards.
It is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator or laboratory supervisor to ensure that staff and students in laboratories are provided with adequate training and information specific to the physical hazards found within their laboratories. Reducing these risks in the laboratory can be accomplished through effective training and good housekeeping. Much like chemical hazards, awareness of these hazards, planning and procedures, use of personal protective equipment, and following basic safety policies can reduce or prevent accidents involving physical hazards. Laboratory personnel should be trained in the proper procedures for lifting, pulling and pushing, as well as the dangers of repetitive movements, and the handling requirements for different equipment.
Some of the physical hazards in the laboratory include:
- Electrical Hazards
- Pressurized Equipment
- Compressed Gases
- Mechanical and Machine Hazards
- Electromagnetic Fields
- Thermal Hazards