An occupational hazard is a hazard experienced in the workplace. Occupational hazards can encompass many types of hazards, including chemical hazards, biological hazards (biohazards), psychosocial hazards, and physical hazards. In the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct workplace investigations and research addressing workplace health and safety hazards resulting in guidelines. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes enforceable standards to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. In the EU a similar role is taken by EU-OSHA.
Occupational hazard as a term signifies both long-term and short-term risks associated with the workplace environment and is a field of study within occupational safety and health and public health. Short term risks may include physical injury, while long-term risks may be increased risk of developing cancer or heart disease.
Chemical hazards are a subtype of occupational hazards that involve dangerous chemicals. Exposure to chemicals in the workplace can cause acute or long-term detrimental health effects. There are many classifications of hazardous chemicals, including neurotoxins, immune agents, dermatologic agents, carcinogens, reproductive toxins, systemic toxins, asthmagens, pneumoconiotic agents, and sensitizers.
NIOSH sets recommended exposure limits (REL's) as well as recommends preventative measures on specific chemicals in order to reduce or eliminate negative health effects from exposure to those chemicals. Additionally, NIOSH keeps an index of chemical hazards based on their chemical name,Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number (CAS No.), and RTECS Number.
This is evidence that workplace exposure to hazards such as silica dust, engine exhausts or welding fumes, among others are associated with increased prevalence of heart disease. Other workplace hazards have been shown to increase risk of pulmonary heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Biological agents, including microorganisms and toxins produced by living organisms, can cause health problems in workers. Influenza is an example of a biohazard which affects a broad population of workers.
Those who work outdoors encounter numerous biological hazards, including bites and stings from insects, spiders, snakes and scorpions,contact dermatitis from exposure to urushiol from poisonous Toxicodendron plants,Lyme disease,West Nile virus, and coccidioidomycosis. According to NIOSH, outdoor workers at risk for these hazards "include farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers, gardeners, painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, laborers, mechanics, and any other workers who spend time outside."
Health care professionals are at risk to exposure to blood-borne illnesses (such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C) and particularly to emerging infectious diseases, especially when not enough resources are available to control the spread of the disease.Veterinary health workers, including veterinarians, are at risk for exposure to zoonotic disease. Those who do clinical work in the field or in a laboratory risk exposure to West Nile virus if performing necropsies on birds affected by the virus or are otherwise working with infected tissue.
Psychosocial hazards are occupational hazards that affect someone's social life or psychological health. Psychosocial hazards in the workplace include occupational burnout and occupational stress, which can lead to burnout.
Physical hazards are a subtype of occupational hazards that involve environmental hazards that can cause harm with or without contact. Physical hazards include ergonomic hazards, radiation, heat and cold stress, vibration hazards, and noise hazards.
Each year in the US, twenty-two million workers are exposed to noise levels that could potentially harm their health.Occupational hearing loss is the most common occupational illness in the manufacturing sector. Workers in certain fields, such as musicians,mine workers, and even those involved with stock car racing, are exposed to higher levels of noise and therefore are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss.
While permanent, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. As such a widespread issue, NIOSH has been committed to preventing future hearing loss for workers by establishing recommended exposure limits (RELs) of 85 dB(A) for an 8-house time-weighed average (TWA). The Buy Quiet program was developed by NIOSH to encourage employers to reduce workplace noise levels by purchasing quieter models of tools and machinery. Additionally, a partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) has resulted in the creation of the Safe-in-Sound Award to recognize excellence and innovation in the field of hearing loss prevention.