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Identifying Hazards in Your Workplace

December 9, 2015

hazard.jpgI talk a lot about preventing safety incidents at work by utilizing SafetyDNA® to engage workers in strong safety behaviors, updating policies, and being proactive to reduce risks using the L.E.A.D model of SafetyDNA. However, in order to take these steps to improve safety conditions, we must first be effective in identifying the hazards at our work sites that present the greatest dangers to employees. How good we are at recognizing the hazards in our work sites can significantly impact our safety records and save lives, so let’s take a look at the common types of hazards and what you can do to ensure that you aren’t overlooking any of them.

OSHA defines a workplace hazard as a potential for harm (physical or mental), often associated with a condition or activity that, if left uncontrolled, can result in an injury or illness. Job hazards are grouped into broad categories which include:

  • Safety Hazards 

    Safety hazards are dangers that can cause immediate accidents and injuries, such as a slippery floor, broken ladder, or exposed wiring.

  • Chemical and Biological Hazards

    Chemical and biological hazards are agents that can make employees sick by entering the body through one’s nose, mouth, or skin to cause harm.

    • Chemical hazards: Gases, vapors, liquids, fumes, or dust that can result in poisoning, lung disease, skin irritation, or damage internal body parts.

    • Biological hazards: Living organisms such as viruses, bacteria, and molds that can cause infectious diseases.

  • Other Hazards

    Any other hazard that doesn’t fit into the other categories, including stress, violence, extreme temperatures, and ergonomic hazards, are considered "other hazards."

The hazard identification process can involve a variety of methods for diagnosing the dangers around your work site, such as:

  • Observation: Using your senses of sight, hearing, smell, and touch, combined with your knowledge and experience, to locate possible risks.

  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs): These are provided when receiving raw materials, chemicals, and other substances from a supplier and provide the relevant information about potential harms.

  • Hazard and Risk Surveys: Conducting hazard-spotting surveys of main work areas encourages workers to raise safety concerns that may not be obvious to management.

  • Record Analysis: Keeping records of identified hazards, near misses, injuries, and workers’ compensation claims can help identify possible trends.

  • Discussion Groups: Opening a dialogue about improving safety conditions can help safety leaders find solutions to current hazards.

  • Safety Audits: Creating a safety committee to thoroughly assess safety conditions and risks may highlight any other unidentified hazards.

  • Safety Maps: These can provide additional information about common hazards.

    • Hazard Maps: Maps of one’s building or job site that pin locations where safety and health problems occur.

    • Body Maps: An image of a human body that employees can use to show which areas of the body they are getting hurt, sick, or stressed by their jobs.

It is important to acknowledge that hazards are not just the potentially dangerous equipment or substances in your worksite, employee exposure is what actually results in a safety incident. Therefore, making sure that your safety policies and procedures are up to date and adequate for the work performed at your organization, along with properly training employees to use machinery, handle chemicals, etc. can preemptively reduce or eliminate potential hazards.

So do you think you are able to identify the hazards at your worksite? OSHA’s Hazard Identification Training Tool is an additional resource you can use to fine-tune your risk assessment skills. This interactive simulation covers all major organization types, and is available free online for all of your managers, safety leaders, and employees to play. I encourage all of the safety leaders reading this post to give it a try at your companies because there is no such thing as too much training when it comes to workplace safety.

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Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.