The relevant safety concerns for certain working environments can be readily apparent. For example, police officers run the risk of being assaulted, surgeons may encounter blood-borne illnesses, and utility workers must deal with a higher risk of falls or electrical shock. Even if a majority of your employees are not patrolling the streets for thugs, performing brain surgery, or climbing utility poles, they may be vulnerable to hidden hazards. Pushing papers across a desk all day can lead to overuse injuries and excessive overtime has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. For workers who are not in front of a desk all day, there may be potential hazards lurking in the procedures that mandate the use of heavy machinery, chemicals, or office equipment.
Who can research job hazards?
There are a number of parties and individuals that may want to conduct a hazard assessment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a hazard assessment procedure available to use. Companies who want to improve employee safety, individual employers who want to identify potential risks, or employees who want to verify their safety are all able to conduct a hazard assessment.
When should an assessment take place?
There are certain occupations that are prime candidates for regular hazard assessments. These workplaces include industries that have the potential for serious bodily harm (maiming, scarring, and disfiguring), jobs with high injury or accident rates, and occupations where procedures change regularly. Each change in procedure should be examined in order to mitigate any potential new hazards.
Even when your workplace does not fall into a category above, a hazard assessment can be warranted. You should set a schedule based on the unique factors at your workplace and stick to it. In addition to your regularly scheduled assessments, a special assessment should be performed any time there is a questionable practice or dangerous condition identified.
How does the assessment work?
OSHA has provided a template which concerned parties can use as a guide to conduct a successful hazard assessment. The template outlines the steps that should be taken in order to effectively assess the workplace. The template involves 5 basic steps:
- Involve those with knowledge of the labor in question (no one knows there tasks better than the employees who carry them out).
- Check accident history and find correlation between specific tasks. This can help identify hazardous situations and flawed procedures.
- Review the known hazards with employees, and let them identify any concerns with current procedures or hazards.
- After identifying potential hazards or blatantly hazardous tasks, create a list that prioritizes the most dangerous (biggest risk of injury or most serious injury) over the lesser hazards.
- Finally, break down and separate each job into small specific tasks. Review these tasks and identify any dangers or tasks that need to be altered.
It is crucial that the employees have a central role in the hazard assessment process. Employees are your best resource when it comes to identifying job procedures and how they are carried out. Your employees have a vested interest in their own safety, so include them and solicit input from them at every stage.
How are workplace hazards identified?
There may be challenges in identifying viable workplace hazards. While there are obvious hazards in heavy machinery and toxic chemicals there are also hazards that may be hidden. To identify hidden hazards there are a series of questions that can be administered to various situations.
- What problems could arise from a specific task?
- What is at stake for the employee? Are there serious consequences?
- How could this problem occur?
- What other actions or factors make this problem more likely to occur?
- What are the chances of this problem actually occurring? High probability? Or extremely unlikely?
These five questions are a great way to sift through potential hazardous situations, as well as identify contributing factors to those hazards. It is important to realize the chain of events that could lead to a safety issue. Hazards are typically the result of a chain of events, not a single action, so identifying contributing factors should be a key area of focus.
Be Proactive with your hazard assessments
If hazard assessments are only being carried out following a serious injury or series of accidents, you’re failing your employees. Perform regular assessments, and encourage any individual that wants to improve safety measures to make a personal assessment. Give them the tools and empower them to identify the source of a particular hazard. Work together to remediate those hazardous situations. You’ll benefit from different perspectives and have more eyes focused on safety. It is better to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best than to play peak-a-boo with hidden hazards. Lives may depend on it.