OBJECTIVE This study was aimed at analysing health workers' social representations concerning occupational risks. METHODS The study adopted a qualitative approach using social representation theory; it was carried out with doctors, nurses and dentists from a Natal/RN-BR hospital dealing with emergencies. A semi-structured interview was used for data collection using the following question for interviewee orientation, "What do occupational hazards mean to you?" The data was analysed by Alceste software based on a dendogram generating four classes containing statements by the subjects who were interviewed. RESULTS Hazard in the work environment prevailed in class 1. Four words became evident: disease (chi-square=78.8), irreversible (chi-square=50.6), accident (chi-square= 45.7) and contract (chi-square=43.4). Class 2 was organised around four significant elements: depression (chi-square=65.7), excessive (chi-square=54.6), stress (chi-square=53.3) and overload (chi-square=26.6). Class 3 related cause and effect in the workplace. The four words listed here involved classic hazard agents: ergonomic (chi-square=74.5), chemicals (chi-square=66), organic (chi-square=60.9) and physical (chi-square=53.8). Class 4 highlighted the 4 most significant words related to the theme: policy (chi-square=25.7), manager (chi-square=16.1), security (chi-square=15.7) and health (chi-square=11.8). CONCLUSIONS This group of workers showed discontentment with unhealthy and unsafe hospital working conditions and a lack of health policy in the workplace must be understood within an overall health policy context.