Health and Safety Terminology Glossary

Health and Safety Terminology Glossary


The health and safety industry is full of jargon and abbreviations, and it may be difficult for even the most seasoned industry professional to keep up with all of the specialised terminologies. Building on the NEBOSH Technical Glossary, British Safety Services is compiling a list of definitions for common health and safety terminology.


Abrasive: A substance capable of rubbing away or grinding another substance.

Absenteeism: The repeated absence of work by an employee.

Absorption: With respect to noise: the use of noise absorption materials within a building to reduce or limit the effects of reflected sound and hence reduce noise levels.

Accident: An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

Acute Health Effects: Negative impacts on health that occurs after initial exposure, and may be reversible or irreversible. Reversible effects often subside once the exposure has stopped.

Arc-Eye: A painful eye condition caused by exposure to intense ultraviolet light.


Barrier:  A fence or material obstruction of any skin erected (or serving) to prevent access to or fall from a place.

Battering: Digging an excavation with its walls sloped back at a predetermined angle to reduce the risk of walls collapsing.

Behavioural Controls: A control method which uses means to alter a person or persons behaviour to achieve its objectives.

Buried Services: Electricity cabling, water or gas pipes etc. that are buried underground.


Carcinogenic substances: A substance or a mixture of substances which may cause cancer.

Cellular defence mechanism: With respect to hazardous substances: the means by which the human body attempts to expel or neutralist harmful substances inside the body at a cellular level, e.g. by the action of the immune system.

Cement Mixer: A mechanical device that uses a rotating drum in which cement is mixed.


Damage-only: An incident or disruption in which no injury results.

Damping: Adding material to reduce vibrant or noise.

Danger: Liability or exposure to harm injury; the condition of being exposed to peril.

Direct Burning: The transfer of heat directly from the flames of a fire to a solid or liquid surface.


Earthing: The bonding of metallic enclosures of electrical equipment, cable armouring, conduits and trunking, etc, so that these conductors are electrically continuous and securely connected to the general mass of the earth at one or more points.

Economic: Commercially advantageous or expedient; (of a business enterprise) repaying (at least) the expenses of operation or use; solvent or profitable.

Egress: A going out, or issuing for, from an enclosed or confined place; the right or liberty of going out.

Emission: The action of giving off or sending out light, heat, gases, odours, sounds, etc.

Extinguishing Media: The substance contained in a fire extinguisher which causes the extinction of a fire, such as Carbon Dioxide, Foam etc.


Fail to danger: Where protective devices have failed, and the plant or system is left in a dangerous state.

Fail to safety: A device designed to ensure that where protective mechanisms have failed, so the plan or system is not left in a dangerous state.

Fall arrest harness: A full body harness with a lanyard attached to either a lifeline or other suitable anchorage designed to stop a person falling to the floor should they fall off a working platform or workplace at height, e.g. roof.


Gantry: A frame or platform carrying a travelling crane or similar structure.

Granulated: Of metals, sugar, plastic, etc: formed into granules.

Groundwater: Water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rocks.


Hand Tool: An implement that is held and operated directly by the hand, e.g. hammer.

Hand/Arm Vibration: Mechanical vibration which is transmitted to the hands and arms during a work activity.

Harm: Physical injury or damage to health.


Ignition: The process or initiating combustion or catching fire.

Immediate Causes: Acts of the worker and unsafe working conditions that had a direct influence on the occurrence of an accident.

Independent tied scaffold: A scaffold structure that is fully able to support itself vertically and receives horizontal stability by being tied to the adjacent building.

Intensity: With regard to noise: a measure for the energy received by the ear, and therefore a measure of the physical harm that can be produced


Jib: The projecting arm of a crane; also applied to the boom of a derrick.

Job factors: With respect to human factors and health and safety at work, job factors related to the designing of work tasks in accordance with ergonomic principles to take into account limitations and strengths in human performance.

Job rotation: Where people are moved from one type of a task to another to minimise risk of injury repeating the same movements or limit exposure to noise/chemicals, etc.


Lanyard: A short rope or line used for securing/tightening, etc.

Line Manager: A manager to whom an employee is directly responsible.


Machinery: Assembly of linked parts or components, at least once of which moves, with the appropriate machine actuators, control and power circuits, joined together for a specific application, in particular for the processing, treatment, moving or packaging of a material.

Mandatory: Obligatory, compulsory; not discretionary.


Near-miss: An incident in which no injury or damage results.

Non-ionising radiation: Electromagnetic radiation with insufficient energy to separate electrons from atom molecules


Occupational Accident: An unplanned or unexpected event arising out of, or in the course of, work which results in injury.

Occupational disease: Any disease contracted as a result of an exposure to a hazard arising from work activity.

Occupational Exposure Limits: The measurable limit of airborne contamination by chemical substances considered to be ‘safe’ for regular inhalation by workers


Pallet Truck: A hand operated tool used to list and move pallets. The truck consists of two forks that are placed under the pallet, the front wheels are mounted inside the end of the forks, and as the hydraulic jack is raised, the forks are separated vertically from the front wheels, forcing the load upward until it clears the floor.

Particulate: Existing in the form of minute separate particles; composed of such particles.


Qualitative risk ranking: A means of organising the results of a risk assessment using qualitative terms such as low, medium or high.

Quantifiable: May be conceived or treated as a quantity; that may be measured with regard to quantity.


Radiation (of heat): With respect to fire safety, the transfer of heat via electromagnetic radiation to a solid or liquid surface.

Reactive monitoring: Checks that failures in the hazard and risk prevention and protection control measures, and the OSH management system, as demonstrated by the occurrence of injuries, ill health, diseases and incidents, are identified and acted upon.


Sack truck: An L-shaped handcart with handles at one end, wheels at the base, with a small ledge to set small objects on, often used to move boxes. When the object is loaded, the truck is tilted backwards until the weight is balanced over the single axle, making otherwise bulky and heavy objects easier to move.

Safe person: Strategies that are concerned with protecting the individual in specific situations. They depend upon the individual conforming to certain prescribed standards, e.g. wearing personal protective equipment.

Superficial Defence Mechanisms: Referring to hazardous substances: The means by which the body attempts to prevent substances from entering, eg by the physical barrier presented by the skin, expelling substances by sneezing or coughing, etc.


Target: An amount/action set as a minimum objective.

Target organ: The biological organ(s) most adversely affected by exposure to a particular chemical or substance.

Trestles: Horizontal beams supported by pairs of splayed legs. Used as supports for tables and temporary working platforms (using staging platforms) for working at low levels eg plastering, and painting a ceiling


Uninsured costs: Financial losses resulting from a workplace accident that are not covered by an insurance policy; eg, lost time, extra wages, fines, legal costs.

Unprotected edges: Any edge of a roof or similar place at height where work ay be conducted that has no barriers or other device fitted to a guard against a person falling off.


Violations: Any deliberate deviation from the rules, procedures or instructions drawn up for health and safety.


Waste transfer: The documented process by which a holder of waste transfers that waste to another party.

Welfare: The state or condition of doing or being well; the well-being of a person.

Whole Body Vibrations: Mechanical vibration which is transmitted into the body, when seated or standing, through the supporting surface, during a work activity.

Add your health and safety terminology

We are always adding new health and safety terminology on a daily basis. So, check back here often for more common health and safety definitions. If you have any others that you would like to include let us know on  Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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