Invisible hazards in the workplace

Invisible hazards in the workplace

All workplaces irrespective of their type can pose a few threats to the staff working there. There are various hazards in the workplace that can be an issue and by hazard, we mean a situation that has the potential to cause harm. So a workplace hazard may refer to anything at work that generates health and safety risks and cause potential damage to the workers. Our latest article looks at invisible hazards in the workplace and how to deal with them.

Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS)

Silica is a natural substance found in varying amounts in most rocks, sand and clay. For example, sandstone contains more than 70% silica, whereas granite might contain 15-30%. Silica is also a major constituent of construction materials such as bricks, tiles, concrete and mortar.

You generate dust from these materials during many common construction tasks and these include cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing. Some of this dust is fine enough to get deep into your lungs. The fine dust is known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and is too fine to see with normal lighting and It is commonly called silica or silica dust.

In order to comply with the law, employers must carry out COSHH assessments. These should determine the level of risk and the controls needed to reduce it. Minimising the dust at source by using a wet cutting method is an example of a control method and all employees should be provided with personal protection equipment and detailed information regarding the risks to health. Exposure to silica dust must be monitored and measured at all times.


Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. As long as asbestos is in good condition and is not disturbed or damaged there is negligible risk. However, if it is disturbed or damaged, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people may breathe them in. Although it is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, many thousands of tonnes of it were used in the past in such things as:

  • Lagging on plant and pipework
  • Insulation products such as fireproof panels
  • Asbestos cement roofing material
  • Sprayed coatings on structural steel work to insulate against fire and noise


The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply to all types of work involving asbestos and materials containing asbestos. They place specific duties on employers and the self-employed.If you have to carry out work which may disturb materials containing asbestos, you must prevent exposure to asbestos fibres. Or where this is not reasonably practicable, reduce any exposure to as low as reasonably practicable by using appropriate control measures and having management systems in place.

Lead in paint

Most Lead Based Paint was banned from sale in the United Kingdom to the general public in 1992, apart from for specialist uses. Prior to this lead compounds had been used as the pigment and drying agent in different types of paint, for example brick and some tile paints. Due to the serious health issues that can come from exposure to lead paint the HSE has provided guidance on those that may come into contact with the substance (dust or fumes). These include construction workers, maintenance workers and builders but also those working in older buildings such as schools, council properties, hospitals and older housing etc.

When dealing with lead in paint, wear disposable coveralls, shoes, hair covering, goggles and a properly fitting respirator. Only HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) respirators will filter lead dust and fumes. Simple paper or fabric dust masks will NOT protect you from lead dust. To avoid ingesting lead, do not eat, drink or smoke while working.


Noise at work can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage that is disabling. This can be:

  • Gradual, from exposure to noise over time
  • Caused by sudden, extremely loud noises


A Risk Assessment is the first step in dealing with noise to enable workplaces to identify areas or operations where excessive exposure to noise occurs. To prevent unfavourable outcomes of noise exposure, noise levels should be reduced to acceptable, tolerable levels if possible. The best method of noise reduction is to use engineering modifications to the noise source itself, or to the workplace environment.

Where technology cannot adequately control the problem, personal hearing protection (such as ear defenders or plugs) can be used.

For further information on invisible hazards in the workplace and relevant training, please contact us here.

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