Difference between health hazards and safety hazards

The term “Health and Safety” is commonly used, but the distinction between health and safety hazards often eludes people.

To clarify, “health” encompasses physical, mental, and social well-being and involves the absence of impairment, illness, infection, or disease. On the other hand, “safety” primarily relates to being free from the risk of harm or injury.

The critical distinction between them lies in their outcomes:

Safety Hazards

These lead to physical injuries, such as:

  • Moving machinery parts can cause cuts, abrasions, or crush injuries.
  • Electric shocks resulting from contact with electricity.
  • Burn injuries caused by fires.

Safety hazards bring immediate, acute harm that becomes evident promptly when exposed to the hazard.

Health Hazards

These are the root causes of illnesses, such as:

  • Asbestos fibres lead to mesothelioma.
  • Noise exposure contributes to hearing loss.
  • Stress leads to various conditions, including heart disease.

Health hazards result in delayed, chronic harm, often manifesting symptoms years after exposure. For instance, it may take decades for asbestos-related diseases to surface.

Notably, the health and safety sector often underemphasises health hazards, with safety hazards taking the spotlight. This is partly because health hazards tend to be less conspicuous.

Therefore, it’s imperative to adopt a systematic approach during risk assessments to avoid overlooking the diverse health hazards in most workplaces.

Systematic Risk Assessment

Once you’ve distinguished between health hazards and safety hazards and assessed their respective risks, it is essential to implement controls for those posing an unacceptably high risk.

Neglecting this crucial step can lead to costly compensation claims and potential prosecution by the relevant enforcing authority.

For instance, in a recent case, an engineer diagnosed with Hand and Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), linked to using vibrating tools for sanding components, highlighted the consequences of a faulty risk assessment. Adequate controls were lacking, such as equipment with lower vibration energy, worker training, and health surveillance to detect early indications of problems.

As a result, the company faced a £20,000 fine, with the potential for even greater costs should the injured party decide to pursue a civil compensation claim.