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Health and safety key words

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

This glossary is intended as a quick reference to definitions of safety and health terms which we use on our website and in other IOSH materials.

Accident An occurrence arising out of or in the course of work that results in either a fatal occupational injury or non-fatal occupational injury or work-related disease/ill health.

Administrative controls Controls that alter the way the work is done, including timing of work, policies and other rules, and work practices such as standards and operating procedures (including training, housekeeping, and equipment maintenance, and personal hygiene practices).

Audit Auditing is a systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining audit evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria are fulfilled.

Benchmarking A mechanism for comparing performance against a level set by OSH legislation and / or sector agreed standards.

Business continuity Business continuity involves planning for situations that that have been identified by the organisation as affecting their core functions with the aim of mitigating loss and impact should they occur.

Civil law The legal framework that balances competing interests between individuals, organisations or between the two, settled independently by the courts, in which compensation is awarded to the victim.

Competence It is explained as a combination of knowledge, skills, experience and attributes, which is a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone, which can also be described as attitudes or behaviours.

Continual improvement A recurring activity to enhance performance.

Continuous improvement A periodic activity to enhance performance.

Cost benefit analysis A balance between the level of risk and the measures needed to control it (in terms of costs, time and effort – a cost benefit analysis.

Criminal law Laws (including Acts or Regulations) introduced by the state to suppress conduct that is harmful to society. It is the state that take action in the courts to punish offenders and deter others.

Critical operational processes (COPs) Activities, processes or services critical to the success of the business. If COPs are compromised the output of the organisation would be reduced or stopped.

Culture The shared characteristics, values and attitudes of a group of people. The 'way we do things here'.

Dangerous occurrence The failure of plant, equipment, or process containment etc without human injury. In some countries categories of dangerous occurrence are defined in law.

Ethical business practices Ethical business practices are essentially the expectations put upon organisations to uphold certain moral values and to continually meet the needs of stakeholders, suppliers, customers, workers, and society in general. Ethical practices will often be built upon the values of fairness, honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability, and should be embedded within the everyday operations of organisations.

First aid Help given to a sick or injured person until medical treatment is available.

Foreseeability An event or occurrence that could realistically happen but excluding the fanciful or bizarre. Often linked to reasonableness in order to limit further the scope of the occurrence to that which is predictable within the context being considered.

Governance The system of rules, practices, processes, assurances by which an organisation is directed and controlled, involving balancing the interests of a company’s many stakeholders, such as shareholders, senior management executives, customers, suppliers, financiers, the government and the community.

Hazard Something with the potential to cause harm, harm being defined as injury or damage to the health of people, or damage to property or the environment.

Health screening Describes health assessments conducted for the purpose of determining the likelihood of a particular disease or condition being present in a cross section of the worker population.

Health surveillance Is a planned systematic recurrent collation of data from activities selected to identify known health effects of workplace exposures in worker populations.

Health and safety committee A committee set up to consult with the workforce on a range of OSH issues, comprising representatives of workers and management.

Hierarchy of control (HOC) The order within which risk control types are prioritised and where the order reflects the effectiveness of a control compared to others.

Horizon scanning A structured approach to explore what the future might look like to better understand its uncertainty.

Incident An all-encompassing term that covers an event that leads to or could have led to injury, occupational ill-health, property damage or loss.

Inspection Careful examination or scrutiny, a safety inspection would specifically involve an on-site walk through to identify potential hazards to workers and provide option for remedial action.

Investigation The process by which an organisation identifies the cause(s) of an incident and takes forward any learning outcomes from it.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) KPIs are predetermined measure to be used in the assessment of progress against objectives either for an individual or in the wider context of the organisation.

Lagging indicators Measures of historic data in the form of reactive monitoring, requiring the reporting and investigation of specific incidents and events to discover weaknesses in an activity or process.

Leading indicators Leading indicators are proactive and predictive measures. Leading indicators provide current information about the effective performance, activities and processes of an OSHMS.

Legal framework A term to collectively describe not only the core component of legislation itself, but also the institutional, administrative, political, social and economic conditions or arrangements, which make the legislation available, accessible, enforceable and therefore effective.

Likelihood Likelihood is a judgement made on balance when weighing up all the relevant factors, particularly in the context of a risk assessment. It is not a precise statistical calculation; therefore being more aligned to the concept of possibility rather than probability.

Management system A collection of policies, procedures and formal processes, and the allocation of responsibilities, set up to manage an organisation.

Medical surveillance A planned systematic recurrent collation of data from activities selected to identify known health effects in target organs of exposed workers. These activities have a medical focus and are performed by a medical doctor.

Method statement A formal description of how a task will be carried out safely.

Near miss An event that did not involve injury or ill-health on this occasion but reasonably could have under different circumstances.

Occupational disease Ill health contracted as a result of an exposure to risk factors arising from work activity.

Occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) A collection of policies, procedures and formal processes, and the allocation of responsibilities, set up to manage OSH in an organisation.

OSH legislation (legislation) A term to collectively describe laws enacted by countries to set standards for the management of the impact of work on OSH.

OSH policy A statement of intent by an organisation on OSH.

Performance A measurement of the level of effectiveness of organisational activities against it's benchmarks and standards, aimed at the prevention of death, injury, ill-health and wellbeing to persons in the workplace.

Permit to Work A formal, controlled system of documentation to ensure that the controls in higher risk activities such as those covered by a Safe System of Work are followed before, during and after the task.

Personal protective equipment Protective equipment worn by a worker to minimise potential injury or illness when exposed to workplace hazards.

Point of work or dynamic assessment A dynamic assessment is used when conditions may be subject to rapid changes where different control measures might need to be introduced at short notice in order to maintain a tolerable level of risk.

Qualitative risk analysis The use of physical evidence, experience and OSH performance indicators to form a current view on the likelihood of a predicted incident and its reasonable extent should it occur.

Quantitative risk analysis The use of factual and measurable data, calculations and other statistical processes to measure the probability of a defined outcome and its impact upon objectives.

Reasonably practicable The balance between the degree of risk in a particular situation or circumstance and the resource (time, trouble, cost) to reduce the level of risk.

Recovery control Recovery controls do not directly prevent incidents from occurring but may be deployed to regain and restore control in the event that the identified incident occurs.

Residual risk The level of risk remaining after risk reduction measures have been implemented.

Risk OSH related Risk is the combination of the likelihood of a hazardous event occurring, and the projected reasonable worst consequence of the event.

Risk appetite The amount and type of risk that an organisation is willing to tolerate to meet strategic objectives.

Risk assessment The overall process to estimate a magnitude of risk, via risk analysis and a risk evaluation. This includes physical (safety and health) and mental health risks.

Risk control A management process where all risk is analysed and a strategy developed for either removing, reducing, transferring or tolerating key elements in line with the organisation's risk appetite.

Risk identification The process of determining risks that could potentially cause an issue to an organisation, its processes, procedures, or objectives, or a specific task.

Risk management The process for identifying, analysing, assessing, controlling and mitigating intolerable risks within an organisation.

Risk profile Threats to which a company or organisation are exposed. The risk profile outlines the number of risks, type of risk and potential effects of risks.

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Risk register A tool used for documenting the results of the qualitative risk analysis, quantitative risk analysis, and risk response planning.

Risk tolerance This is the amount of uncertainty an organisation is prepared to accept, either in total, or more narrowly within a certain business unit, a risk category or for a specific initiative.

Risk treatment The process of selecting and implementing of measures to modify risk.

Root cause The initiating factor or failing from which all other causes or failings develop.

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) Respiratory protective equipment worn by workers to protect from airborne contaminants.

Safe systems of work (SSOWs) A systematic examination of a working process, that identifies hazards and specifies work methods designed either to eliminate the hazards, or control and minimise the relevant risks.

Significance Significance is something that matters or is meaningful within the context of the organisation.

Strategy Strategy is a description of an organisation's overall plan on how it will meet the business, transformational and operational objectives that it has set for itself.

Stress A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

Value chain A value chain is a business model that describes the full range of activities needed to create a product or service

Vulnerable workers Vulnerability comes from two distinct factors: 1. An individual's clinical susceptibility to certain triggers that may occur in the workplace 2. Physical health or medical conditions whether temporary or permanent that place an individual or a group of individuals in a situation more likely to be involved in an incident than others performing the same tasks around them.

Wellbeing An individual’s holistic state that encompasses both current mental and physical health circumstances based on influential factors.

Welfare Workplace facilities that promote the health, safety and wellbeing of workers. These can include toilet and washing facilities, rest and changing facilities, a place to store and dry clothing and somewhere clean to eat and drink during break times.

Worker Anyone who performs work or work-related activities that are under an organisation's control.

Workplace The area under the control of the organisation where the workers perform their activities. This can include not only the immediate workplace, but also other locations.

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