Hazards are typically put into six categories. This helps with inspections (are all categories covered?) and to demonstrate that “safety” and “health” are different kinds of hazards. It also makes clear that stressors (a.k.a. work organisation or psychosocial hazards) too often are the invisible root causes of other hazards.

The graphic below lays out the categories. Developed during the New Eyes project, it’s useful to clarify what fits where.

Chemical hazards include: gases, liquids and solids, and the things into which they can be changed. Note that vapours are the gaseous form of liquids, and fumes are very small, airborne, solid particles formed by the cooling of a very hot vapour. Smaller than dusts, they are more easily breathed into the lungs. Therefore, there are paint vapours and welding fumes. It matters when you use respirators or design ventilation systems.

Communicable/biological hazards aren’t just found in hospitals or personal care homes. They’re the “bugs” we have to deal with when we come in contact with others, moulds, sharps (also found in other jobs than health care), etc.

Ergonomic design hazards, sometimes called biomechanical hazards, involve problems with the design and organisation of work. Ergonomics has been defined as the “law of work”. Others talk about it being the science and art of fitting the job to the worker’s physical and psychological needs. In practice, it’s about designing jobs to ensure people are not expected to overwork or strain their bodies and brains.

These hazards usually affect our musculoskeletal system — they cause aches and pains. However, they also include such things as the design of equipment controls or operating systems. That design affects our ability to see, concentrate and use operating equipment, computers, etc. Some ergonomic hazards are considered physical hazards (from energy sources) in other circumstances.

Physical hazards are not the physical symptoms of an illness or injury or something that is visible. They are hazards from energy sources. Compare them with safety/mechanical hazards. These include hazards associated with indoor air problems.

Safety/Mechanical hazards are the slip, trip, fall type of hazards. They include machinery with moving parts. They are not physical hazards.

Work organisation hazards or stressors cause us stress (short-term effects) and strain (long-term or chronic effects). The hazards are related to how much say we have about our work, how hard we work, how much we have to do (workload), what kind of social relationships there are at work, what kinds of rewards we get for our efforts, the threat of violence, lack of respect, etc.