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 HSE services and resources are listed below:

Sharps (needles, glassware, etc.)

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

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

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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. 

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

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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, and on uneven surfaces; and slip on ice or other slick surfaces while making their way across the university. 

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.

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

Health, Safety and Environment 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). 

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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

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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.

Health, Safety and Environment 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.

More resources


Alberta OHS Act, Regulations, and Code