Physical Hazards

Physical hazards include equipment or circumstances that can cause injury or illness, including noise, improper lighting, sharp edges and heavy lifting. 

Common physical hazards and associated Health, Safety and Environment (HSE)
services and resources are listed below:

Confined + Restricted Spaces

There are a number of restricted and confined spaces throughout the university, including boilers, wet wells, tanks, vessels, sewer manholes, electrical vaults, crawlspaces, air handling units (AHU), mechanical spaces, pits and excavations. Work in these spaces can involve serious health and safety risks, including asphyxiation, drowning and movement-related injuries.

HSE provides the following resources related to working in confined or restricted spaces:

Forms + Documents

Hazardous Energy

Hazardous energy is any electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, nuclear, thermal, gravitational or other energy that can harm personnel and cause injury.

HSE provides the following resources related to working on equipment or systems containing hazardous energy sources:

  • Energy isolation code of practice : Requirements to prevent unintended release of energy as well as the unintended start-up, motion, or contact with equipment or system containing or producing hazardous energy.

Forms + Documents


Working at heights includes any activities whereby a worker may fall from a distance. Examples include work conducted on a ladder, research conducted on a rooftop, or work involving scaffolding or scissor lifts. 

HSE provides the following resources related to working at heights:

Forms + Documents

Movement Related Injury

Strenuous and repetitive motions (such as heavy lifting or conducting the same task repetitively) can contribute to traumatic injuries and work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides fact sheets and other resources to help prevent injuries associated with improper lifting, pushing and pulling. 

HSE also offers a self-assessment tool and online training to help you to evaluate your workstation and make ergonomic adjustments as required.

Learn More - Ergonomics


Noise poses a hazard in the workplace when employees are exposed to a time-weighted average of 85 decibels (dBA) over eight hours.

HSE conducts noise assessments (as required and upon request), does audiometric testing of noise-exposed workers, and provides advice related to noise exposure as well as to nuisance noise (<85 dBA but which may be stressful and produce irritability or distractions). 

Noise Management Program

Sharps (needles, glassware, etc.)

"Sharps" refers to devices or objects that can puncture or lacerate the skin. Examples include:

  • Dental burrs
  • Dissection pins
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Microtome and cryostat blades
  • Scalpels and razor blades
  • Scissors
  • Used graduated pipette and pipette tips

Every year sharps contribute to a significant number of cut and puncture injuries at the U of A.

Research groups should regularly review how sharps are used in the laboratory to determine if equipment and procedures can be improved to reduce the likelihood of injury.

Sharps Awareness

Slips + Trips

Slips and trips are the leading cause of workplace injuries at the U of A. Each year, dozens of staff and students trip on steps, cables, uneven surfaces, ice or other slick surfaces.

Basic housekeeping measures, to ensure that cables are gathered and stored safely, or to ensure that aisles and hallways are clear of obstacles, can go a long way to reducing the risk of tripping. Likewise, making decisions to avoid slippery surfaces and wear appropriate footwear can help to prevent injuries related to slipping.

Slippery Surfaces

Sun + UV Exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can lead to harmful skin changes including sunburn, premature aging, eye damage and skin cancer. Individuals working outdoors should practice sun safety on a daily basis. To reduce UV exposure:

  1. Check your local weather to determine the UV index for the day.
  2. Discuss UV risks with coworkers and take the UV protection course online.
  3. Implement controls that are appropriate to the UV Index

Sun UV Exposure Program

Thermal Stress (heat + cold)

Thermal stress, defined as working in extremely hot or cold environments, can pose health risks. The OHS Code requires that employers identify and assess thermal hazards and implement control measures to protect workers from associated injury and illness.

HSE provides the following resources related to heat and cold stress in the workplace:

Ensure that you have conducted a hazard assessment and identified all physical hazards and implemented control measures before you start work.

Forms + Documents

Regulators + Regulations

Alberta OHS Act, Regulations + Code