What Constitutes a Hazard in a Workplace?

Improper storage can create a hazard in the workplace.
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Blocked emergency exits, inaccessible fire extinguishers, no hot water in bathrooms and blocked hallways are workplace hazards that have been cited by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) due to the potential for causing injury to employees. A hazard in the workplace is any unsafe condition or practice that could cause an injury or illness, when not controlled. The definition is broad and for that reason, hazards may not always be obvious. When trying to identify conditions that constitute a hazard in the workplace, you must consider the workplace environment, equipment and materials used, jobs performed and the actions of people.

Workplace Environment

    Workplace conditions make up a physical work environment. When a work environment is not maintained, poor conditions can cause injuries and illnesses. Poor environmental conditions can include lack of housekeeping, improper storage of dangerous chemicals and improperly maintained equipment and tools. For example, faulty electrical equipment or hand tools can cause electrical shocks and burns, poor housekeeping may result is tripping hazards and falls, and dangerous substances not stored properly may leak and cause hazardous conditions.


    Job equipment can become a hazard due to improper operation, lack of maintenance or servicing, lack of familiarity with operating procedures or operator carelessness. Equipment hazards include sharp edges, nip points and rotating parts that can cause injuries to hands, arms and other body parts. For example, paper cutters, conveyor belts, power presses, hand tools and fork lifts can be hazards if not used properly. Also, poorly laid out equipment in work stations can cause musculoskeletal injuries due to repetitive motion.


    Materials stored in the workplace also have hazard potential. Proper chemical storage goes hand in hand with good housekeeping. OSHA regulations require employers to store materials in a way that is stable and secure against sliding or collapse and does not contribute to tripping hazards. Improperly stored materials can fall on employees or block passageways. When employees move or handle materials improperly, they risk back injuries. Many workplaces use, make or store chemicals. These chemicals may contain hazardous ingredients that can contribute to toxic environments or fire and explosion hazards.

People and Jobs

    Accidents caused by people may involve unsafe actions or behaviors. People who don’t take safety seriously can injure themselves or others. Examples of unsafe behaviors include horseplay or joking around. People can also exhibit unsafe behaviors while doing their jobs by disregarding safety rules, such as not wearing required hearing or eye protection. They can also ignore safe work practices by bypassing machine guards or spilling coffee on the break room floor and not cleaning it up. Unsafe behaviors negatively impact the workplace because of the impression given that such behaviors are okay.

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