Identify hazards in the workplace
Why is it necessary to identify hazards in the workplace?
Identifying and reporting hazards in the workplace is one of the most powerful ways in which workers and companies can improve workplace safety. Many workplace injuries and incidents are a result of unidentified hazards, or a lack of action on controlling the risk associated with a specific hazard.
Identifying hazards is the first step in managing WHS risk:
Step 1 - Identify hazards -
Identify and find things which have the potential to cause harm, these can include:
- Biological hazards - Bacteria, viruses, animals, other humans
- Chemical hazards - Hazards stemming from any hazardous chemical
- Ergonomic hazards - Repetitive movements, incorrect posture, incorrect set up of work environment
- Physical hazards - Temperature extremes, pressure extremes, noise, vibrations
- Psychosocial hazards - Violence, stress
- Safety hazards - Equipment breakdowns, slip and trip hazards, electrical hazards etc.
Step 2 - Assess risks -
Understand the nature of the harm caused by the above hazard, including how severe the harm would be and the likelihood of its occurrence.
Step 3 - Control risks -
Implement control measures which reduce the likelihood and severity of the risk, in a practical and feasible way.
Step 4 - Review control measures -
Watch and review the control measures over time, to understand how they are performing and whether or not they need to be amended or changed
As you can see from the above sequence of managing workplace health and safety, to identify risk is to take the first step in implementing new and improved safety practices which lead to better workplace safety.
It is necessary for someone (and ideally everyone) to participate in hazard identification, because everyone sees different things, spots different hazards and has their own set of expertise on the dangers associated with specific tasks.
Only a culture of safety where everyone participates in the identification of hazards can a workplace achieve a safer environment.
No workplace is ever completely safe from hazards of course; there are always going to be hazards on construction sites, mining sites, manufacturing plants and in all workplaces - but we can dramatically reduce the likelihood and severity of workplace injuries through good hazard identification and good hazard identification practices - which is a job we should all be involved in.
How to identify hazards in the workplace, and then control those hazards
Identifying hazards in the workplace is a big job. A workplace hazard is anything which has the potential to harm the health and safety of a person. These hazards can can take the form of work practices and systems which are used to perform work - as well as physical, biological and even psychological aspects.
But when broken down, hazard identification can and should simply be a part of normal operations, and that way it is blended into the way people do work and creates better hazard identification opportunities.
The main 'times' when hazard identification should be done include:
- During design and implementation such as when a new process or procedure is implemented or a new piece of plant or equipment installed
- Before tasks are started or done using equipment and general checklists
- While tasks are being done, be vigilant of changes in conditions
- During inspections, which can be formal or informal inspections, performed by an internal employee or supervisor or an external party or auditor
- After incidents and near misses, retroactively looking at which hazards caused the incident or injury and how those can be mitigated in the future
When it comes to how to identify hazards in the workplace, one of the best tools is experience. Workers who have been on a construction site for a long time can often identify hazards quickly and accurately. But, they can also become complacent with hazards and accustom to simply working around the hazards, so it's also great to get fresh eyes in the form of other employees and external inspectors onto a site or workplace.
The most common 'categories' of hazards which all workers need to be aware of are:
Some general rules of thumb which help all workers to better identify hazards in the workplace include:
- Looking at every aspect of the work including cleaning and maintenance, not just normal operations
- Looking closely at the physical work environment, equipment, materials etc.
- Looking at past injury and incident records to spot weaknesses or 'hot spots'
- Discuss hazards with workers in an individual setting and through toolbox talks and other safety meetings as they often know hazards best
- Look at how specific work and processes are done and managed including the systems behind the processes and procedures
- Consider possible and somewhat unforeseen circumstances including what might happen and what might become a hazard in severely adverse weather etc.
- Determine how easy it would be for someone or something to impact the safety of a machine or other object (can they remove a LOTO tag by hand etc.)
- Consider risks to other companies, subcontractors and the public
- Look at the skill levels and competency of different groups. Factor in younger and more inexperienced workers when considering whether a hazard is 'obvious'
Tools used for identifying hazards in the workplace
Talking about identifying hazards in the workplace is easy, but actually capturing, organising and actioning all of those hazard identifications is not easy.
Because it's such an important task (to identify hazards in the workplace), and because it can be time-consuming and admin-heavy, many companies today use specific tools for identifying hazards in the workplace.
These hazard identification tools enable workers and their companies to document, organise, track and action their workplace hazards more efficiently.
How do they do this?
They usually do this by giving workers the power and ability to document workplace hazards using digital devices such as phones and tablets.
All of the information collected on site is then instantly synced to the database in real-time where it can be accessed, read and actioned, and companies and teams can even get detailed analytics about the number of identified hazards in the workplace and other helpful insights.
Try this hazard identification tool for free.
Identify hazards in the workplace example
Depending on the tools and mechanisms you use to identify hazards in the workplace, you will be looking at a different example and workflow.
For our example, we are going to look at 'best practice' based on using the above software and app combination.
Here's what an example hazard identification workflow would look like on this site:
When a worker spots a hazard, they can use their mobile device or tablet to open and access an hazard identification checklist or similar form and document the hazard on the spot. They can even attach pictures and videos of the hazard so readers get real context of the danger and urgency associated with the workplace hazard.
Once the hazard has been documented, safety managers and other administrators can get an instant notification about this hazard, decide on a corrective action if its required, and then action that change and sign it off.
All of this and all of the hazard information is available in real-time, so that nothing ever gets missed or forgotten, and all hazard records stay neat, organised and available.
To identify hazards in the workplace like this, you need a smart tool. Using paper-based documents, excel spreadsheets and computer folder structures simply doesn't make sense when you can use these real-time and accurate technologies.
The company or worker can also export the hazard identification record as a hard copy document which can be shared internally or externally.
Use this hazard identification framework for free.
Start identifying hazards in your workplace
To identify hazards in the workplace requires some conscious work from companies and workers.
For companies, it requires establishing a culture of safety whereby people know they can spend their time documenting hazards and caring about safety. It also requires establishing the right processes, procedures and tools so that people can identify hazards in the workplace relatively easy.
If a worker needs to go to the office, grab a piece of paper, write down the hazard, then scan and upload the piece of paper, there is a lot more friction involved in the process and people won't identify as many hazards.
If the process is simple and easy in that a worker can access the right template or procedure from the phone, take a couple of photos and sign it off, then hazard identification participation will immediately increase.
On the workers side, workers need to be conscious of their surroundings and of operations. They need to understand how to identify hazards in the workplace, and care about identifying hazards too. They need to make safety a priority for themselves and for others around them.
Hazard identification is a joint effort from the company, workers and other stakeholders, and it is an effort which is well-worth it.
Reducing and mitigating hazards will always be the first line of defence and one of the most effective ways to reduce workplace incidents.
If you are looking to identify hazards in your workplace, use the smart templates below. They make it easier to document, organise and track workplace hazards and other safety issues.
People in 80+ countries use this safety management software to improve how they document, manage and action hazards.