How do you identify hazards? Here are six things you can do
If you want to prevent accidents from happening, you have to know how to identify workplace hazards. Basically, a hazard is something that can affect your employee's safety or health. Workplace hazards have many sources, but they are not infinite and you can control if you can identify them and determine how they can harm your employees. Sources of hazards include tools and equipment, substances, materials, energy, conditions, processes, and work practices.
Here are six things you can do to identify hazards and make your workplace safer:
- Conduct a baseline hazard survey. A baseline survey is a thorough evaluation of your entire site — work processes, equipment, and facilities — that identifies safety or health hazards. A complete survey will tell you what the hazards are, where they are, and how severe they could be.
- Do a job-hazard analysis. A job-hazard analysis (JHA) is a method of identifying, assessing, and controlling hazards associated with specific jobs. A JHA breaks down a job into tasks. You evaluate each task to identify any hazards, and then determine how each hazard will be controlled. JHAs work well for jobs with hazards that are difficult to eliminate, and for jobs with a history of accidents or near misses. JHAs for complex jobs can take a considerable amount of time and expertise to develop. Involving the employees performing the jobs throughout the JHA process can provide you a better understanding of the different ways each task is accomplished and can help implement any need for change.
- Use safety data sheets to identify chemical hazards. Your employees must be able to understand and use safety data sheets (SDSs). An SDS has detailed information about a hazardous chemical's health effects, its physical and chemical characteristics, and safe practices for handling. You must prepare an inventory list of your hazardous chemicals and have a current SDS for each hazardous chemical used at your workplace. If your employees handle hazardous chemicals or chemical products, you will also need to develop a written hazard communication plan that identifies the chemicals and describes how your employees are informed about chemical hazards.
- Look for new hazards whenever you change equipment, materials, or work processes. Determine what hazards could result from the changes and how to eliminate or control them. If you work at multiple sites, you may need to do a hazard assessment at each site.
- Investigate accidents and near-miss incidents to determine root causes. Most accidents are preventable. Each one has a root cause — poor supervision, inadequate training, and lax safety policies are examples. Develop a procedure that determines who will do the investigation and ensures the investigation will be thorough and accurate. One way to investigate near misses is to have a "no-fault" incident reporting system: Employees just fill out a simple incident report form that describes the incident and how it happened. Investigate the incident as if it were an accident and tell your employees what you will do to prevent it from happening again.
- Do regular workplace inspections. Regular inspections help you determine if you have eliminated or controlled existing hazards and can identify new hazards. In fact, all work sites – including equipment and work processes – must be inspected by a qualified person as often as necessary to keep employees safe. Quarterly inspections by employees trained in hazard recognition are a good way to get the job done. If your business has a safety committee, the committee must establish procedures for conducting safety and health inspections. People trained in hazard identification must conduct the inspections at least quarterly – and as often as necessary at mobile locations.