Security management: hazard identification and assessment (2023)

One of the "root causes" of injuries, illnesses and incidents in the workplace is failure to identify or recognize hazards that are present or could have been anticipated. A critical element of any effective safety and health program is an ongoing, proactive process for identifying and assessing such hazards.

To identify and assess hazards, employers and workers:

  • Gather and review information about hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace.
  • Conduct initial and periodic workplace inspections to identify new or recurring hazards.
  • Investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents, and near misses/near misses to determine underlying hazards, their causes, and health and safety program deficiencies.
  • Group similar incidents together and identify trends in reported injuries, illnesses and hazards.
  • Consider the hazards associated with non-routine or emergency situations.
  • Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents that could result from each identified hazard and use this information to prioritize corrective actions.

Some hazards, such as cleanliness and tripping hazards, can and should be corrected as they are encountered. Addressing hazards on site emphasizes the importance of safety and health and seizes on a safety leadership opportunity. For more information on dealing with other hazards identified through the processes described here, see "Risk prevention and control."

Action Point 1: Gather existing information about workplace hazards

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Action Point 2: Inspect the workplace for safety hazards

Action point 3: Identify health risks

Action Point 4: Conduct incident investigations

Action Point 5: Identify hazards associated with emergency and non-routine situations

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Action Point 6: Characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify interim control measures, and prioritize hazards for control

Action Point 1: Gather existing information about workplace hazards

Information about workplace hazards may already be available to employers and workers, both from internal and external sources.

how to reach it

Collect, organize, and analyze information with workers to determine what types of hazards may be present and which workers may be exposed or potentially exposed. Information available at the workplace may include:

  • Machinery and equipment operation manuals.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by chemical manufacturers.
  • Self-inspection reports and inspection reports from insurance companies, government agencies and consultants.
  • Past injury and illness records, such as OSHA 300 and 301 records and incident investigation reports.
  • Workers compensation records and reports.
  • Patterns of frequent injuries and illnesses.
  • Exposure monitoring results, industrial hygiene assessments, and medical records (appropriately redacted to ensure patient/worker privacy).
  • Existing health and safety programs (lockout/tagout, confined spaces, process safety management, personal protective equipment, etc.).
  • Worker contributions, including surveys or health and safety committee meeting minutes.
  • Results of the occupational hazard analysis, also known as occupational safety analysis.

Hazard information may be available from external sources such as:

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  • Websites, publications, and alerts from OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Trade associations.
  • Unions, state and local occupational safety and health committees/coalitions (“COSH groups”), and workers' advocacy groups.
  • Health and safety consultants.
Action Point 2: Inspect the workplace for safety hazards

Hazards can be introduced over time as workstations and processes change, equipment or tools wear out, maintenance is neglected, or cleaning practices decline. Taking the time to regularly inspect the workplace for hazards can help identify deficiencies so they can be corrected before an incident occurs.

how to reach it
  • Perform periodic inspections of all operations, equipment, work areas and facilities. Engage workers on the inspection team and talk to them about the hazards they see or report.
  • Be sure to document inspections so that you can later verify that dangerous conditions have been corrected. Take pictures or record problem areas to facilitate discussion and brainstorming on how to control them and use them as learning aids.
  • Include all areas and activities in these inspections, such as storage and storage, facility and equipment maintenance, purchasing and office functions, and the activities of contractors, subcontractors, and temporary staff on site.
  • Periodically inspect factory vehicles (eg forklifts, powered industrial trucks) and transport vehicles (eg cars, trucks).
  • Use checklists that highlight things to look for. Typical hazards fall into several main categories, such as those listed below; each workplace will have its own list:
    • general task
    • Slip, trip and fall hazards
    • electrical hazards
    • equipment operation
    • equipment maintenance
    • fire protection
    • Work organization and process flow (including staffing and scheduling)
    • work practices
    • violence at work
    • ergonomic problems
    • Lack of emergency procedures.
  • Before changing operations, workstations or workflow; make major organizational changes; or the introduction of new equipment, materials or processes, seek input from workers and evaluate planned changes for potential hazards and related risks.

To use:Many hazards can be identified using common knowledge and available tools. For example, you can easily identify and fix hazards associated with broken stair railings and frayed electrical cables. Workers can be a very useful internal resource, especially if they are trained to identify and assess risks.

Action point 3: Identify health risks

Identifying worker exposure to health risks is often more complex than identifying physical safety risks. For example, gases and vapors may be invisible, often odorless, and may not have an immediately noticeable adverse health effect. Health hazards include chemical hazards (solvents, adhesives, paints, toxic powders, etc.), physical hazards (noise, radiation, heat, etc.), biological hazards (infectious diseases), and ergonomic risk factors (weight lifting , repetitive motion, vibration). Reviewing workers' medical records (appropriately prepared to ensure patient/worker privacy) can be helpful in identifying health risks associated with workplace exposures.

how to reach it
  • Identifychemical hazards– Check SDSs 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.
  • Identifyphysical hazards–Identify any exposure to excessive noise (areas where you must raise your voice for others to hear), high heat (indoor and outdoor), or radiation sources (radioactive materials, X-rays or radio frequency radiation).
  • Identifybiohazards– determine whether workers may be exposed to sources of infectious diseases, molds, toxic or poisonous plants, or animal-derived materials (hair or excrement) capable of causing allergic reactions or occupational asthma.
  • Identifyergonomic risk factors–examine work activities that require heavy lifting, work above shoulder height, repetitive motion, or tasks with significant vibration.
  • Conductquantitative exposure assessments– whenever possible, using air sampling or direct reading instruments.
  • review medical records–to identify cases of musculoskeletal injury, skin irritation or dermatitis, hearing loss or lung disease that may be related to workplace exposures.

To use:Identifying and assessing health risks may require specialist knowledge. Small businesses can obtain free, confidential occupational health and safety consulting services, including help identifying and assessing workplace hazards, through OSHA.On-site consulting program.

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Action Point 4: Conduct incident investigations

Workplace incidents, including injuries, illnesses, accidents/near misses and reports of other concerns, provide a clear indication of where hazards exist. By thoroughly investigating incidents and reports, you will identify hazards that are likely to cause future harm. The aim of an investigation should always be to identify the root causes (and there are often more than one) of the incident or concern in order to prevent future occurrences.

how to reach it
  • Develop a clear plan and procedure for conducting incident investigations so that an investigation can begin immediately when an incident occurs. The plan should cover things like:
    • who will be involved
    • lines of communication
    • Necessary materials, equipment and supplies
    • Reports from forms and templates
  • Train investigation teams in incident investigation techniques, emphasizing objectivity and open-mindedness throughout the investigation process.
  • Conduct investigations with a trained team that includes management and worker representatives.
  • Investigate close calls/near misses.
  • Identify and analyze root causes to address underlying program deficiencies that allowed incidents to occur.
  • Communicate investigation results to managers, supervisors and workers to avoid repetition.

Effective incident investigations do not stop at identifying a single factor that triggered an incident. They ask the questions "Why?" and "What led to failure?" For example, if a piece of equipment fails, good research asks, "Why did it fail?" "Was it properly maintained?" "Was it beyond its useful life?" and "How could this failure have been avoided?" Likewise, a good incident investigation does not end when it concludes that a worker has made a mistake. It asks questions like: "Was the worker given the proper tools and time to do the job?" "Was the worker adequately trained?" and "Was the worker properly supervised?"

To use:OSHA has special reporting requirements for work-related incidents that lead to serious or fatal injuries (29 CFR 1904.39). OSHA must be notified within 8 hours of a work-related fatality and within 24 hours of an amputation, loss of an eye, or hospitalization.

Action Point 5: Identify hazards associated with emergency and non-routine situations

Emergencies present dangers that need to be recognized and understood. Non-routine or infrequent tasks, including maintenance and startup/shutdown activities, also pose potential risks. Plans and procedures need to be developed to respond adequately and safely to hazards associated with foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine situations.

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how to reach it
  • Identify foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine tasks, taking into account the types of materials and equipment in use and their location within the facility. Scenarios like the following can be foreseeable:
    • fires and explosions
    • chemical emissions
    • Spills of hazardous materials
    • Start-ups after planned or unplanned equipment shutdowns
    • Non-routine tasks, such as maintenance activities performed infrequently
    • structural collapse
    • disease outbreaks
    • Weather emergencies and natural disasters
    • medical emergencies
    • violence at work
Action Point 6: Characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify interim control measures, and prioritize hazards for control

The next step is to assess and understand the identified hazards and the types of incidents that may result from worker exposure to these hazards. This information can be used to develop interim controls and prioritizedangers to permanent control.

how to reach it
  • Evaluate each hazard by considering the severity of the possible outcomes, the likelihood of an event or exposure occurring, and the number of workers likely to be exposed.
  • Use temporary control measures to protect workers until more permanent solutions can be implemented.
  • Prioritize hazards so that those most at risk are treated first. Bear in mind, however, that employers have an ongoing obligation to control all recognized serious risks and to protect workers.

To use:"Risk" is the product of hazard and exposure. Therefore, the risk can be reduced by controlling or eliminating the hazard or by reducing workers' exposure to the hazards. A risk assessment helps employers understand hazards in the context of their own workplace and prioritize hazards for ongoing control.


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