Hazard Identification and Assessment
JERROLD J. SCHARNINGHAUSEN, Ph.D.
Workplace Safety Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Failure to identify hazards on the job site is one of the root causes of workplace injuries. A critical element of any effective safety and health program is a proactive, ongoing process to identify and assess these hazards. To do so, units and organizations need to follow the six simple steps below. 1. Collect existing information about workplace hazards
Remember to consider your safety and installation industrial hygiene offices as resources for this as well as job hazard analyses (JHA) prepared for the worksite.Information on workplace hazards may already be available from both internal and external sources. Collect, organize and review the information with workers to determine what types of hazards may be present and which workers may be exposed or potentially exposed. Information available in the workplace may include:
- Equipment and machinery operating manuals
- Workplace inspection reports
- Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by chemical manufacturers
- Records of previous injuries and illnesses
- Workers' compensation records and reports
- Patterns of frequently occurring injuries and illnesses
- Industrial hygiene surveys
- Existing unit safety and health programs
- Input from workers
- Results of JHAs
Some hazards, such as housekeeping and tripping hazards, should be fixed immediately. Fixing hazards on the spot emphasizes the importance of safety and health and takes advantage of a safety leadership opportunity. 2. Inspect the workplace for safety hazards
Hazards can be introduced over time as work processes change, equipment or tools become worn or replaced, maintenance is neglected, or housekeeping practices decline. Scheduling regular workplace inspections for hazards can help identify shortcomings so they can be addressed before an incident occurs.
- Conduct regular inspections of all operations, equipment, work areas and facilities. Have workers participate as members of the inspection team and talk to them about hazards they see or report.
- Document inspections so they can be used later to verify that hazardous conditions were corrected.
- Include all areas and activities in these inspections, such as storage and warehouses, facility and equipment maintenance, office areas, and the activities of onsite contractors, subcontractors and temporary employees. Don’t forget to also check common areas like break rooms, restrooms and showers.
- Regularly inspect both powered industrial trucks (e.g., forklifts) and transportation vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks).
- Use checklists that highlight things to look for. Typical hazards fall into several major categories, such as those listed below. Each workplace will have its own list of categories.
o General housekeeping
o Slip, trip and fall hazards
o Electrical hazards
o Equipment operation
o Equipment maintenance
o Fire protection
o Work organization and process flow (including staffing and scheduling)
o Work practices
o Workplace violence
o Ergonomic problems
o Lack of emergency procedures
3. Identify health hazards
- Before changing operations, workstations or workflow; making major organizational changes; or introducing new equipment, materials or processes, seek the input of workers and evaluate the planned changes for potential hazards and related risks.
Identifying workers' exposure to health hazards is typically more complex than identifying physical safety hazards. For example, gases and vapors may be invisible, have no odor and may not have an immediately noticeable harmful effect. Health hazards include chemical hazards (solvents, adhesives, paints, toxic dust, etc.), physical hazards (noise, radiation, heat, etc.), biological hazards (infectious diseases), and ergonomic risk factors (heavy lifting, repetitive motions, vibration). Requesting your supporting occupational health office to review workers' medical records can be useful in identifying health hazards associated with workplace exposures.
4. Conduct incident investigations
- Identify chemical hazards – review SDS and product labels to identify chemicals in your workplace that have low exposure limits, are highly volatile, or are used in large quantities or in unventilated spaces. Identify activities that may result in skin exposure to chemicals.
- Identify physical hazards – identify any exposures to excessive noise (areas where you must raise your voice to be heard by others), elevated temperatures (indoor and outdoor), or sources of radiation (radioactive materials, X-rays or radiofrequency radiation).
- Identify biological hazards – determine whether workers may be exposed to sources of infectious diseases, molds, toxic or poisonous plants, or animal materials (fur or scat) capable of causing allergic reactions or occupational asthma.
- Identify ergonomic risk factors – examine work activities that require heavy lifting, work above shoulder height, repetitive motions or tasks with significant vibration.
- Conduct quantitative exposure assessments – request the supporting installation industrial hygiene program office to sample the workplace.
Workplace incidents — including injuries, illnesses, close calls/near misses and reports of other concerns — provide a clear indication of where hazards exist. By thoroughly investigating every incident and report, hazards likely to cause future harm can be identified. The purpose of an investigation must always be to identify the root cause (and there are often more than one) of the incident or concern to prevent future occurrences.
Develop a clear plan and procedures for conducting incident investigations. Effective incident investigations do not stop at identifying a single factor that triggered an incident. They ask the questions "Why?" and "What led to the failure?" For example, if a piece of equipment fails, a good investigation asks: "Why did it fail?" "Was it maintained properly?" "Was it beyond its service life?" and "How could this failure have been prevented?" Similarly, a good incident investigation does not stop when it concludes that a worker made an error. It asks questions such as "Was the worker provided with appropriate tools and time to do the work?" "Was the worker adequately trained?" and "Was the worker properly supervised?" 5. Identify hazards associated with emergency and non-routine contingency plans
Emergencies present hazards that need to be recognized and understood. Non-routine or infrequent tasks, including maintenance and startup/shutdown activities, also present potential hazards. Plans and procedures need to be developed for responding appropriately and safely to hazards associated with foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine situations.
- Identify foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine tasks, taking into account the types of material and equipment in use and the location within the facility. The time to consider how to respond is gone while the scenario/task is happening. Scenarios such as the following may be foreseeable: o Fires and explosions
o Chemical releases
o Hazardous material spills
o Startups after planned or unplanned equipment shutdowns
o Non-routine tasks, such as infrequently performed maintenance activities
o Structural collapse
o Disease outbreaks
o Weather emergencies and natural disasters
o Medical emergencies
o Workplace violence 6. Characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify interim control measures and prioritize the hazards for control
The next step is to assess and understand the hazards identified and the types of incidents that could result from worker exposure to those hazards. This information can be used to develop interim controls and prioritize hazards for permanent control.
- Evaluate each hazard by considering the severity of potential outcomes, the likelihood that an event or exposure will occur, frequency/duration of exposure and the number of workers who might be exposed.
- Use interim control measures to protect workers until more permanent solutions can be implemented.
- Prioritize the hazards so those presenting the greatest risk are addressed first. The unit leadership has an ongoing obligation to control all serious recognized hazards and protect workers.
Risk is the product of hazard and exposure. Thus, risk can be reduced by controlling or eliminating the hazard or by reducing workers' exposure to hazards. An assessment of risk can help leaders to understand hazards in the context of their own workplace and prioritize them for permanent control.