How do you start to recognize hazards in the workplace or jobsite? What exactly constitutes a hazard? When it comes to safety at the workplace, a hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on workers. Hazards can be physical, chemical, ergonomic, biological and psychological.

Sometimes it can be very easy to identify hazards at your place of work, for instance, falling off a ladder. Other times, it may not be so obvious, such as computers causing eye strain.

The Process to Recognize Hazards

Recognizing hazards in the workplace is a process that starts by identifying what has the potential to cause harm – in a given situation, as part of one’s job responsibilities and more. Sometimes this process is referred to as a risk assessment.

Once you’ve identified hazards, you need to evaluate the risk associated with each one and appropriate ways to eliminate it or control it.

Times when you can and should do a hazard assessment include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Designing a new process or procedure
  • Purchasing and installing new machinery
  • Before tasks are done, such as checking equipment or looking over your surroundings before a work shift
  • As tasks are being done, one should always be aware of abnormal conditions or other changes during a work shift
  • During any kind of inspection
  • After near misses or other incidents

Tips to help you when doing a hazard assessment:

  • Review the physical work environment, which includes equipment, materials and products used
  • Review processes and procedures of how the work is completed
  • Include non-routine activities such as maintenance, repair and cleaning
  • Take into account injury and incident records
  • Interview workers and include them in the assessments
  • Be sure to talk with workers on all shifts, those who work off-site or from home, at other job sites and even drivers of different vehicles
  • Include foreseeable or unusual conditions (i.e., power outages)
  • Determine if there are risks to visitors or the public

What types of hazards should you look for?

Hazards are typically classified by the following categories.

  • Biological: infection by bacteria, virus or parasites through a cut, insect bite or contact with infected people or contaminated objects
  • Chemical: gases, dusts, fumes, vapors and liquids
  • Ergonomic: repetitive movements, workstation designs, poor design of equipment and manual handling
  • Physical: slippery floors, objects in walkways, excessive noise, temperature extremes and poor lighting
  • Psychological: harassment, discrimination, violence, threat of danger, stress and working with the public.
  • Safety: inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns

Another way to recognize hazards is to ask questions, such as:

What situations do workers come into contact with: electricity? Chemicals? Temperature extremes? Radiation? Water? Oxygen deficiency?

When could workers be struck by: moving objects such as forklifts or cranes? Flying objects such as sparks or shards? Falling objects?

What objects or equipment could workers be caught in, on or between: protruding objects? Sharp or jagged edges? Pinch points on machines? Moving objects such as conveyors?

What could workers fall from: lofts, ladders, overhead walkways, roofs, trees?

What could workers slip or trip on: obstructions on the floors or stairs, wet or icy surfaces, inappropriate footwear?

What situations might be hazardous to workers: confined spaces, working alone, fire and/or explosion, chemical spills?

Develop a culture of safety and educate your workers.

Training is a key component of your company’s safety culture. Train workers about the hazards and how to avoid them and be sure to comply with safety procedures and practices on the jobsite

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