Health and Safety: How to Identify the Hazard. There are many definitions for hazard but the most common definition when talking about workplace health and safety is “A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone.”
The CSA Z1002 Standard “Occupational health and safety – Hazard identification and elimination and risk assessment and control” uses the following terms:
- Harm – physical injury or damage to health.
- Hazard – a potential source of harm to a worker.
Basically, a hazard is the potential for harm or an adverse effect (for example, to people as health effects, to organizations as property or equipment losses, or to the environment).
Please see the OSH Answers on Hazard and Risk for more information.
Hazard identification is part of the process used to evaluate if any particular situation, item, thing, etc. may have the potential to cause harm. The term often used to describe the full process is risk assessment:
- Identify hazards and risk factors that have the potential to cause harm (hazard identification).
- Analyze and evaluate the risk associated with that hazard (risk analysis, and risk evaluation).
- Determine appropriate ways to eliminate the hazard, or control the risk when the hazard cannot be eliminated (risk control).
Overall, the goal of hazard identification is to find and record possible hazards that may be present in your workplace. It may help to work as a team and include both people familiar with the work area, as well as people who are not – this way you have both the experienced and fresh eye to conduct the inspection.
When should hazard identification be done?
Hazard identification can be done:
- During design and implementation
- Designing a new process or procedure
- Purchasing and installing new machinery
- Before tasks are done
- Checking equipment or following processes
- Reviewing surroundings before each shift
- While tasks are being done
- Be aware of changes, abnormal conditions, or sudden emissions
- During inspections
- Formal, informal, supervisor, health and safety committee
- After incidents
- Near misses or minor events
To be sure that all hazards are found:
- Look at all aspects of the work and include non-routine activities such as maintenance, repair, or cleaning.
- Look at the physical work environment, equipment, materials, products, etc. that are used.
- Include how the tasks are done.
- Look at injury and incident records.
- Talk to the workers: they know their job and its hazards best.
- Include all shifts, and people who work off site either at home, on other job sites, drivers, teleworkers, with clients, etc.
- Look at the way the work is organized or done (include experience of people doing the work, systems being used, etc).
- Look at foreseeable unusual conditions (for example: possible impact on hazard control procedures that may be unavailable in an emergency situation, power outage, etc.).
- Determine whether a product, machine or equipment can be intentionally or unintentionally changed (e.g., a safety guard that could be removed).
- Review all of the phases of the lifecycle.
- Examine risks to visitors or the public.
- Consider the groups of people that may have a different level of risk such as young or inexperienced workers, persons with disabilities, or new or expectant mothers.
What types of hazards are there?
A common way to classify hazards is by category:
- biological – bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans, etc.,
- chemical – depends on the physical, chemical and toxic properties of the chemical,
- ergonomic – repetitive movements, improper set up of workstation, etc.,
- physical – radiation, magnetic fields, temperature extremes, pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum), noise, etc.,
- psychosocial – stress, violence, etc.,
- safety – slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns.
How do I know what is a hazard?
Another way to look at health and safety in your workplace is to ask yourself the following questions. These are examples only. You may find other items or situations that can be a hazard. List any item that should be examined. During the risk assessment process, the level of harm will be assessed.
What materials or situations do I come into contact with? Possibilities could include:
- chemicals (liquids, gases, solids, mists, vapours, etc.)
- temperature extremes of heat or cold (e.g., bakeries, foundries, meat processing)
- ionizing/non-ionizing radiation (e.g., x-rays, ultraviolet (sun) rays)
- oxygen deficiency
What materials or equipment could I be struck by?
- moving objects (e.g., forklifts, overhead cranes, vehicles)
- flying objects (e.g., sparks or shards from grinding)
- falling material (e.g., equipment from above)
What objects or equipment could I strike or hit my body upon, or that part of my body might be caught in, on, or between?
- stationary or moving objects
- protruding objects
- sharp or jagged edges
- pinch points on machines (places where parts are very close together)
- objects that stick out (protrude)
- moving objects (conveyors, chains, belts, ropes, etc.)
What could I fall from? (e.g., falls to lower levels)
- objects, structures, tanks, silos, lofts
- ladders, overhead walkways
- trees, cliffs
What could I slip or trip on? (e.g., falls on same level)
- obstructions on floor, stairs
- surface issues (wet, oily, icy)
- footwear that is in poor condition
How could I overexert myself?
- repetitive motions
What other situations could I come across?
How to Find Hazards
INSPECT THE WORKPLACE
Regularly walking around the workplace and observing how things are done can help you predict what could or might go wrong.
Look at how people actually work, how plant and equipment are used, what chemicals are around and what they are used for, what safe or unsafe work practices exist as well as the general state of housekeeping.
Things to look out for include the following:
- Does the work environment enable workers to carry out work without risks to health and safety (for example, space for unobstructed movement, adequate ventilation, lighting)?
- How suitable are the tools and equipment for the task and how well are they maintained?
- Have any changes occurred in the workplace which may affect health and safety?
Hazards are not always obvious. Some hazards can affect health over a long period of time or may result in stress (such as bullying) or fatigue (such as shift work). Also think about hazards that you may bring into your workplace as new, used or hired goods (for example, worn insulation on a hired welding set).
As you walk around, you may spot straightforward problems and action should be taken on these immediately, for example cleaning up a spill. If you find a situation where there is an immediate or significant danger to people, move those persons to a safer location first and attend to the hazard urgently.
Make a list of all the hazards you can find, including the ones you know are already being dealt with, to ensure that nothing is missed. You may use a checklist designed to suit your workplace to help you find and make a note of hazards.
CONSULT YOUR WORKERS
Ask your workers about any health and safety problems they have encountered in doing their work and any near misses or incidents that have not been reported.
Worker surveys may also be undertaken to obtain information about matters such as workplace bullying, as well as muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards.
REVIEW AVAILABLE INFORMATION
Information and advice about hazards and risks relevant to particular industries and types of work is available from regulators, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.
Manufacturers and suppliers can also provide information about hazards and safety precautions for specific substances (safety data sheets), plant or processes (instruction manuals).
Analyse your records of health monitoring, workplace incidents, near misses, worker complaints, sick leave and the results of any inspections and investigations to identify hazards. If someone has been hurt doing a particular task, then a hazard exists that could hurt someone else. These incidents need to be investigated to find the hazard that caused the injury or illness.
A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of it happening. A risk assessment can help you determine:
- how severe a risk is
- whether any existing control measures are effective
- what action you should take to control the risk
- how urgently the action needs to be
A risk assessment can be undertaken with varying degrees of detail depending on the type of hazards and the information, data, and resources that you have available. It can be as simple as a discussion with your workers or involve specific risk analysis tools and techniques recommended by safety professionals.
Where can I find more information about hazards?
It may be necessary to research about what might be a hazard as well as how much harm that hazard might cause. Sources of information include:
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).
- Manufacturer’s operating instructions, manuals, etc.
- Test or monitor for exposure (occupational hygiene testing such as chemical or noise exposure).
- Results of any job safety analysis.
- Experiences of other organizations similar to yours.
- Trade or safety associations.
- Information, publications, alerts, etc. as published by reputable organizations, labour unions, or government agencies.
What if I am new to the workplace?
If you are new to your workplace, to learn about the hazards of your job, you can:
- ask your supervisor
- ask a member of the health and safety committee or your health and safety representative
- ask about standard operating procedures and precautions for your job
- check product labels and safety data sheets
- pay attention to signs and other warnings in your work
- watch for posters or instructions at the entrance of a chemical storage room to warn of hazardous products
- ask about operating instructions, safe work procedures, processes, etc.