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Employers have a responsibility to help minimise any exposure to the risk of injury or illness to its personnel. This includes both the identification and risk assessment of hazards and dangers.

When reviewing workplace safety requirements, you often hear the words ‘hazard’ and ‘danger’ but what is the difference?

A hazards and a danger are not the same t. Employees may need to follow different steps that are dependant on the type of threat; making it important to understand the vital differences between these two terms.

Here is what you should know about the terms hazardous and dangerous.

What Are the Main Differences Between Hazards and Dangers?

A hazard is something that poses an immediate or long-term health effects on the environment or people, such as fumes or vapours. Harmful substances can be either a solid, a liquid, or a gas. There are also physical threats such as electrical hazards or issues that may result in slips, trips and falls.

A danger is something that poses an immediate physical or chemical effect, such as an explosion or a fire. Dangerous goods possess specific properties that pose this danger. Flammable, explosive, corrosive, toxic or oxidising substances/materials are classified as dangerous goods.

Both WHS and OHS legislation mitigate these threats through separate pieces of legislation. However, some hazardous substances are also classified as dangerous goods. In those situations, both sets of laws apply to the substance or good.

Harmful substances are covered by specific WHS/OHS regulations whilst dangerous goods are covered by OHS regulations and the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (Vic).

Besides harmful substances, there are also physical threats that employees may encounter in different environments and settings. This includes potential risks to office workers. Common physical hazards include:

  • Paper cuts;
  • Falls and trips; and
  • Office fires.

A tripping hazard is a common threat in an office environment. Extension cords that are not secured, boxes that are stacked too high and defective, adjustable chairs may cause workplace injuries.

Improper handling, incorrect use of paper cutters and other office hazards may result in work-related health and safety issues. When a worker’s injured on the job, the employer is responsible for the workers’ compensation, medical assessment and treatment and the return to work plan.

What Are the Types of Hazards?

You may encounter risks from chemicals or physical hazards. Chemicals that may cause adverse health effects include:

  • Toxic chemicals;
  • Carcinogens; and
  • Chemicals that cause skin damage.

Cleaning supplies and chemical solutions are defined as hazardous substances. However, there are also substances that receive exemptions under the OHS regulations under Schedule 5 of the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 (Vic).

Additionally, hazards in specific categories receive exemptions. The exemption depends on the category of the substance:

  • Category 2 aspiration hazard;
  • Category 2 flammable gas;
  • Category 2B eye irritation;
  • Category 3 skin irritation; and
  • Category 5 acute toxicity.

The Regulations do not apply to food, asbestos or the transport of harmful substances. Manufacturers, suppliers and employers need to determine whether a substance is a threat. If it is a threat, Safety Data Sheets (‘SDS’s’) are needed.

You may also find yourself dealing with a physical hazard in the workplace. This includes working from heights, electrical hazards and commonly found office hazards.

What Are the Types of Dangers?

Dangerous goods and substances can cause explosions, fires and large-scale damage. Instead of creating a direct threat through exposure or inhalation, these materials can create an immediate threat to the environment and people in the area.

Examples of dangerous goods include:

  • Asbestos;
  • Corrosive substances;
  • Explosives;
  • Flammable liquids; and
  • Non-flammable, non-toxic gases.

The Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 (Vic) outline the legal duties for manufacturers, suppliers and employers. The code of practice for handling and storage provides steps for ensuring compliance with the Regulations.

Manufacturers and suppliers need to provide data sheets and clearly label containers. Employers need to proactively identify these substances in the workplace and ensure that they remain properly labelled and stored.

What’s the Difference Between Hazardous and Dangerous Substances?

A substance is a chemical or chemical product. The main difference between a hazardous and dangerous substance is the type of health and safety risk that the substance possesses:

  • Hazard: risk through exposure or contact.
  • Danger: risk through a physical or chemical effect.

A harmful substance creates a risk through exposure. For example, you may inhale harmful airborne particles when working in a confined space. Dust particles are considered harmful. Other common threats include office hazards such as falling from a chair or tripping over a cord.

A dangerous substance or good is something that creates a risk through a physical or chemical effect. For example, a substance that combusts when exposed to another substance is a potential danger.

How Are Hazardous and Dangerous Items Labelled?

WHS regulations introduced the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). It outlines the labelling requirements for each GHS class and category. If you work in an environment that includes exposure to harmful materials, you may see the GHS posters with symbols and pictograms.

Before supplying the material to a workplace, manufacturers and suppliers need to provide proper labelling. Each container needs to include:

  • The product identifier;
  • The contact information of the manufacturer;
  • The corresponding pictogram and statement; and
  • Compliant labelling of each ingredient.

After receiving a good or substance, businesses need to keep a current SDS. Workers also need to be able to freely access to the SDS. Additional duties of care for employers include:

  • Ensuring that the container remains labelled;
  • Replacing defaced or altered labels;
  • Identifying harmful or dangerous materials;
  • Eliminating the risk of exposure to the material; and
  • Reducing the risks associated with the material.

The labels need to remain in place until the container is cleaned or neutralised. If the container still poses a risk to health, it needs to contain a label.

What Risk Management Steps Should Employees and Employers Take?

White card training offers an overview of the proper methods for identifying and assessing risks. It is a good first step for those who plan to work in the construction industry. However, there are also OHS standards that employers need to follow when dealing with hazards and dangers:

  • Identify foreseeable threats;
  • Try to eliminate the risk;
  • Minimise exposure to the risk using control measures;
  • Maintain the implemented control measures; and
  • Review and revise control measures.

The responsibilities also include managing the risks associated with the handling, usage and storage of harmful chemicals. Besides correct labelling, employers need to follow these responsibilities:

  • Maintain a register of chemicals;
  • Identify any risks associated with the chemicals;
  • Ensure that employees do not exceed exposure standards;
  • Provide health monitoring to workers;
  • Provide relevant training and instruction to workers;
  • Provide necessary protective equipment and clothing; and
  • Maintain safety data sheets on all chemicals.

Employees also take an active role in these risk management steps. Through proper instruction, within an approved registered training organisation, workers learn how to identify risks and implement control measures.

The first step is always identifying the risk and determine if it can be eliminated or avoided. If workers cannot eliminate the threat, they should find ways to minimise the exposure. This may involve the use of protective equipment or clothing.

Employers need to ensure that employees have the resources available to implement any control measures. When workers feel that their safety needs are not met, they have the right to refuse to continue their employed duties and stop works.

Providing workers with the necessary resources may also require training. For example, before removing asbestos, workers need to complete asbestos removal training courses.

Businesses and employees have duties of care under WHS/OSH Regulations. This includes identifying and assessing the risks associated with hazardous or dangerous products or materials.

If you work in an environment that includes potentially harmful chemicals or products, ensure that you and your employer are compliant with the latest health and safety laws. Remember that compliance may include the need for OHS training courses.

For more information on the risks in your work environment, check with your health and safety representative or supervisor.

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