EHS Safety Definitions: A Cheat Sheet for Common Terms and Acronyms
We’ve compiled some of the most common health and safety terminology along with brief definitions for each one. Think of it as a quick cheat sheet for EHS pros.
By Cory Sander
In the environmental, health and safety field, there are more terms associated with EHS safety than you can count. It’s easy to find yourself thinking: What does that term mean? Or what is the OSHA requirement?
We’ve compiled some of the most common health and safety terminology along with brief definitions for each one. Think of it as a quick cheat sheet for environmental, health, and safety professionals. One that can help you better understand the lingo, connect some dots, and, ultimately, allow you to build a safer work environment.
Naturally occurring minerals historically used in insulation for pipes, floor tiles and building materials. Some common safety requirements associated with asbestos fall under OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1001.
Infectious microorganisms found in human blood that can cause the spread of diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis C. Sharps-related injuries are a common exposure risk for bloodborne pathogens. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030
This term encompasses an entire group of materials, such as asbestos, cadmium and benzidine, that cause or potentially cause cancer. Each carcinogen is typically covered by a different OSHA standard. See OSHA’s list of carcinogens and their corresponding regulations.
Chemical reactivity hazards
A chemical with a hazard of being readily reactive with other chemicals. To protect workers from chemical reactivity hazards, companies are required to provide hazard communication to employees. This includes communicating what hazards are present and how to avoid them. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200
Any material that burns easily in dust-like form and can cause an explosion under certain conditions. Examples: pesticides, plastics, coal and aluminum. There are no specific OSHA regulations for combustible dust, but there are general standards and guidance.
Small spaces that are not designed for humans but are still large enough for humans to enter. This includes tanks, pits, manholes and pipelines. Some confined spaces require permits and fall under OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.146.
Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
A wide range of energy sources, including electrical and thermal, can be harmful to workers. An injury or fatality might happen while maintaining a machine or when there’s an unexpected release of stored energy. Lockout and tagout processes protect workers against these accidents. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.147
This is when the skin of a worker is exposed to a chemical, which may be easily absorbed and cause health issues. There are a variety of OSHA standards around individual substances as well as general protective requirements.
Emergency preparedness and response
It’s about having a plan to respond to an emergency in the workplaces. This encompasses everything from natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, to explosions, toxins and hazardous waste.
Falls cause many workplace injuries, so there’s specific fall protection required for many situations, such as ladders, stairways, heights above four feet and more. Worker protections vary from hand and guard rails to nets and safety harnesses.
A fibrous, inorganic substance made from glass wool and glass filament that can cause respiratory issues for workers.
A catchall term for all industries except agriculture, construction or maritime.
To protect workers from chemical hazards, companies are required to provide hazard communication to employees. This includes communicating what hazards are present and how to avoid them. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200
A regulated subset of waste that can pose a substantial or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly managed. Possesses at least one of four characteristics (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity), or appears on special EPA lists.
Hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER)
This refers to standards for workers responding to a hazardous waste release or the threat of a hazardous waste release. It outlines a variety of health and safety standards during emergency response and/or cleanup efforts. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.120.
Whether they’re indoors or out, many workers are exposed to heat and this can cause illness, and in some cases, even death. It’s important to recognize the risk levels of different temperatures and be prepared to take protective measures.
An incident occurs anytime a worker is hurt (or in the case of a near-miss, almost hurt), and OSHA encourages companies to investigate these occurrences. It’s about identifying hazards and taking corrective action to avoid the same incident happening again.
Injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting requirements
There are exceptions, but most companies with more than 10 workers are required to formally record serious work-related injury and illness. See OSHA 1904 for the full recordkeeping regulation. Our TRAK300 software can help you manage incidents and accidents.
Exposure to the light from some lasers can damage the skin and eyes of workers.
A naturally occurring heavy metal used in a variety of industries. Lead exposure can cause damage to human organs and lead to health problems. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1025.
A form of severe pneumonia caused by bacteria related to warm-water sources, such as poorly maintained cooling towers and potable water systems.
A safeguard to prevent workers from being harmed by moving parts. Different machines, such as a grinder, may have specific requirements. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910, Subpart O.
A type of fungi that can have a negative impact on worker health. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.141
Noise exposure (occupational)
Some work environments expose people to potentially damaging levels of noise, and companies are required to provide protection. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.95.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Any equipment worn or used to protect workers from potential hazards in the workplace. Examples include hard hats, safety glasses, ear muffs and respirators.
Powered industrial trucks
The more common name is forklift, and workplace forklift operation is covered by OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.178.
Process safety management
A set of requirements for managing highly hazardous chemicals in a variety of industries. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.119
A form of energy that can damage human tissue at high levels of exposure.
Respirators either filter harmful particles from the air or supply a fresh supply of clean air to workers. Both are primarily designed to protect workers from lung damage and disease.
A common mineral found in sand, stone and concrete. Inhaling crystalline silica may cause lung cancer, kidney disease and other ailments. See OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1053.
A structure that allows workers to work high off the ground and creates a risk for serious worker injury. OSHA Standard: 29 CFR 1910.27.
Target industry profiles
OSHA targets certain industries, and these targets may change each year. You can find out if you’re within a targeted industry for a given year on the OSHA website.
A way to control air flow and quality within a given area.
Logging overtime hours or working unusual shifts, such as a swing shift, can cause workers to become tired (raising risk of injury) and negatively impact their health.
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