Recognizing Hazards

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, May 22, 2019

One of the major causes for workplace injuries, illnesses and incidents involves the failure to recognize hazards and anticipate areas where hazards may occur. When developing a safety and health program, you must implement a process to identify and address these hazards.

OSHA recommends following a six-step action plan.

Action item 1: Collect Existing Information About Workplace Hazards

Collect and organize information about hazards that might be present and which workers may be exposed. This could be found from inside sources including equipment and machinery operating manuals; SDS; inspection reports; records of previous injuries or illnesses; workers’ compensation records; input from workers; and results of job hazard analyses. It could also be available from outside sources including OSHA, NIOSH, CDC, labor unions, and safety and health consultants.

Action item 2: Inspect the Workplace for Safety Hazards

It is important to conduct regular inspections in the workplace to identify any hazards that may have been introduced after the previous inspection. Hazards may occur after changes are made to workstations or processes, as equipment and tools become worn, or when maintenance and housekeeping practices are neglected.

How to Conduct a Safety Inspection:

  • Inspect all operations, equipment, work areas, and facilities
  • Document inspections using notes, photos, and videos
  • Use checklists that highlight things to look for including general housekeeping; slip, trip & fall hazards, electrical hazards; fire protection; work practices; ergonomic problems; and lack of emergency procedures
  • Inspect plant vehicles and transportation vehicles
  • Risks and potential hazards should be evaluated before changing operations, making major organizational changes or introducing new equipment, materials, or processes

Action item 3: Identify Health Hazards

It is important to identify workers’ exposure to health hazards including chemical hazards, physical hazards, biological hazards, and ergonomic risk factors. This can be accomplished by conducting quantitative exposure assessments using air sampling or direct reading instruments. You should also review employee medical records to identify cases of musculoskeletal injuries, skin irritation or dermatitis, hearing loss, or lung disease that may be associated with exposure in the workplace.

Action item 4: Conduct Incident Investigations

Workplace incidents including injuries, illnesses, close calls, and other concerns should be thoroughly investigated to identify hazards that may cause future harm. The root cause of the incident or concern should be determined to help prevent future occurrences.

Incident investigations should include a plan and procedure including:

  • Who will be involved
  • Lines of communication
  • Materials, equipment, and supplies needed
  • Reporting forms and templates

OSHA has special reporting requirements for work-related incidents that lead to serious injury or a fatality as outlined in 29 CFR 1904.39. OSHA must be notified within 8 hours of a work-related fatality, and within 24 hours of an amputation, loss of an eye, or inpatient hospitalization.

Action item 5: Identify Hazards Associated with Emergency and Nonroutine Situations

Identify emergency scenarios and nonroutine tasks including:

  • Fires and explosions
  • Chemical releases
  • Hazardous material spills
  • Startups after equipment shutdowns
  • Infrequently performed maintenance activities
  • Structural collapse
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Weather emergencies and natural disasters
  • Medical emergencies
  • Workplace violence

Action item 6: Characterize the Nature of Identified Hazards, Identify Interim Control Measures, and Prioritize the Hazards for Control

Finally, you need to assess and understand the hazards identified and any incidents that could result from worker exposure to the hazards. You can do this by evaluating each hazard and the likelihood that an event or exposure will occur. You should prioritize hazards based on what will present the greatest risk to employees.

Every workplace has hazards. As an employer, you must look after your employees’ safety and protect them against health and safety hazards while on the job.

Want to learn learn more about how to keep workers safer from hazards on the job? Read our #YHSafetyTips posts on Safety Data Sheets, Inspections, Record Keeping, and Hazard Communication Labels.

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