Types of Physical Hazard

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a hazard as anything that can cause harm to people. Physical hazards will be anything that can cause harm to people physically, so let’s break this topic down into hazard categories and provide some examples of hazards!

Moving Vehicles

Coming into contact with a moving vehicle is one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities in the UK. In a battle between a pedestrian and a forklift/tractor, the vehicle always wins.

Common injuries: Crushed limbs, broken bones, punctures (forklift & similar plant), head injuries, and fatalities.

Examples:

  • Forklifts – Have pedestrians and vehicles been effectively separated to ensure they don’t come into contact?
  • Plant and large vehicles – Are vehicles being supervised by a banksman, is reversing being supervised or entirely avoided? Are there clear work areas for pedestrians and vehicles separately?
  • Delivery vehicles – Are there intrinsically safe places for staff to stand when a vehicle is entering or exiting the yard? Are staff clear of moving vehicles or anything that they can strike (for example, not standing behind a gate that can hit them)?
  • Uneven ground – Are vehicles at risk of toppling over when in use, and do drivers wear their seatbelts where appropriate?

Moving Machinery

Coming into contact with moving machinery can often lead to things that you want to stay attached to your body becoming unattached. Typically, moving machinery will draw in whatever it comes into contact with, so the circumstances surrounding an injury are often the same. Something was moving, it was touched (accidentally or purposefully), it drew in what touched it e.g. clothes, hair, fingers, limbs and continued to draw it in until the power was cut.

Common injuries: Severed limbs, entanglement resulting in scalping, broken bones, burns, electrocution, and cuts.

Examples:

  • Tractor Power Take Off (PTO) shafts – Is the PTO covered or able to be quickly/conveniently isolated/turned off?
  • Moving parts to vehicles – Can the work be done while the vehicle is turned off? Is the vehicle isolated?
  • Moving parts to machinery – Can the work be done while the machine is turned off? Are procedures in place to prevent loose clothing or stray hair?
  • Mechanical moving parts – Are moving parts guarded or kept away from working areas, e.g. Convery belts separated by a casing or screen to prevent access during operation.

Moving / falling objects

Being struck by a moving or falling object can lead to severe injuries and there is a high potential for fatality. The further something falls, the faster it will go (until it reaches terminal velocity) and all of the force it picks up will dissipate into what it lands on.

Common injuries: Impacts to the head can lead to fractures, brain damage and death; impacts to the limbs can lead to broken bones, lacerations and muscle tears; and impacts to the torso can lead to internal bleeding, broken bones, cuts and bruises.

Examples:

  • Tools falling from a work platform – are tools able to be safely attached to the user? Are hard hats a requirement? Are there toe-boards or equivalent to reduce the likelihood?
  • Debris falling from a worksite – are areas below the work platform sectioned off from pedestrians? Are there fall nets? Is debris cleared up so that it’s less likely to be an issue? Are items secured if high winds are forecasted?
  • Items falling from warehouse racking or a forklift – are containers and items suitably secured before they’re put at height? Are pedestrians and workers separated where possible?
  • Debris being ejected from a struck watermain – have you identified and isolated/avoided water mains?

People/Violence

People can be unpredictable, and can act irrationally and violently for little to no reason. Many workmen have been verbally or physically assaulted for just doing their jobs, and the problem doesn’t stop at the building site. Ambulance and fire service workers are assaulted at work while trying to help people.

Common injuries: The injuries from violent events can be very varied, from a black eye or bruise to a fatality. Unfortunately, there is also often lasting psychological damage, and in severe circumstances the injured individual may experience post-traumatic stress.

Examples:

  • Workmen abused or assaulted on a work site – Segregate the public from the work as far as is reasonably practicable. Ensure that staff have a safe place to go or are able to leave the site if threatened.
  • Workers assaulted in transit, such as moving goods – Do insurance and procedures allow for workers to ‘just let it go’? Do workers moving high value goods work in pairs or teams and are they equipped to deal with violence? Are workers able to be supported by security or police?
  • Workers assaulted ‘on the scene’, such as ambulance and fire staff
  • Workers assaulted in relation to robbery/theft – Are goods clearly identifiable by thieves? Is the building/workplace easy to access and are valuables on show?

Electricity

Electrical current powers or is a part of a large amount of workplace equipment. The UK has good standards for safety and goods, so electrical risk is lower than other countries. However, issues tend to arise with mains current, overhead lines, equipment that was bought faulty or has gone faulty, and misuse of equipment.

Common injuries: Burns, nerve damage, cardiac arrest, torn muscles/ligaments and broken bones if thrown away from the point of shock.

Examples:

  • Overhead powerlines – Overhead powerlines operate at between 11,000v and 400,000v. Are workers aware of the risks and working away from powerlines? Read more in this article.
  • Mains electric – The current that runs through UK mains is alternate current (AC). As the name suggests, AC changes direction (50 times a second), and coming into contact with an AC current can lead your muscles to contract, meaning that you can’t let go of the contact with the current.
  • Equipment – Ensure all equipment is bought from reputable sources, maintained in line with its usage or requirements. A good rule of thumb is “did it come from the manufacturer looking like this?”.
  • Faulty Equipment – It’s important to have an effective reporting and replacement procedure that workers of all levels can follow if equipment is faulty. Do employees know what to look for? Do they know where to report faults? Do you have a quick turn around on faulty equipment?
  • Misuse of equipment – Whether through wilful ignorance or the wrong tool for the job, sometimes equipment can be misused. Ensure that staff are competent to use the equipment that you’re expecting them to use, and more importantly that it’s suitable for the work.

There are many other physical hazards and you can read more by purchasing a copy of A Study Book for the NEBOSH National General Certificate, 11th Edition. This book is designed to provide health and safety professionals and learners of the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety with a valuable resource throughout their studies, exams, and beyond in to their career.


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