Hazard assessments and controls help organizations build a safer workplace.
As a key element of every health and safety program, hazard assessments provide a consistent approach to identify & control safety hazards in the workplace. Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety legislation requires employers to conduct hazard assessments and put controls in place to protect themselves and their employees. It allows everyone to focus their efforts in the right areas, and to develop worker training, inspections, emergency response plans, etc. specific to the hazards at their work sites.
Hazard assessments are a core part of every occupational health and safety management system. There’s another good reason for an employer to do hazard assessments. It’s the law.
For an unplanned or unforeseen event to take place, there has to be potential! Complacency and taking things for granted are causes of a tremendous number of injuries each year. Recognizing hazards and doing something about them is everyone’s responsibility.
According to the Alberta OHS Best Practices hand book, there are benefits and challenges to hazard assessment and control:
What are the benefits of hazard assessment and control?
Hazard assessments identify hazards so they can be eliminated or controlled before someone gets hurt. The process of conducting hazard assessments and following through by introducing controls may also:
- Inspire improvements in day-today operations (e.g. maintenance, work procedures, worker training, process and design, purchasing, housekeeping). Workers can see how doing simple things like mopping up spills or picking up debris is more important than they might have thought. They become more proactive.
- Show workers they are important and valued, and demonstrate employer commitment. Feeling valued can inspire participation and ownership of workplace health and safety.
- Focus attention on workplace health and safety. Hazard assessments point to specific areas in need of improvement. They get people thinking — and talking — about health and safety.
- Result in a more consistent, efficient and effective workplace. One can expect that lowering the risk of a health and safety incident also lowers the number of productive hours lost to worker illness and/or injury.
- Lower operating costs. Fewer incidents means fewer claims filed with the Workers’ Compensation Board. Fewer insurance claims means lower annual premiums.
What are some of the challenges of conducting hazard assessments?
- Not all workplace hazards are obvious to everyone. Individuals bring their own experience and judgement to the task of identifying hazards.
- The culture (attitudes and behaviours) of a workplace or an entire industry can build up a level of risk tolerance. Risk-taking may be an accepted part of the job. Workers may become complacent and begin to lower their guard over time, as high-hazard activities become familiar. Workers may even disregard the hazardous nature of a task because they take pride in
the risky nature of their work.
- New workers may simply not have the experience to identify the hazards at their work site, or may willingly take risks in an attempt to prove themselves.
- More experienced workers may have the most difficulty changing their behaviour. They are sometimes more likely to dismiss occupational health and safety initiatives as unnecessary.
As you begin work, ask yourself:
- Do I have the right tools/equipment for the job?
- Have I inspected my tools/equipment to make sure they are in good repair or am I trying to get by?
- Is the work laid out to provide safe completion of the job?
- Are the materials I am using safe, and do I need additional personal protective equipment such as: safety glasses, gloves, hard hat, respirator, etc.?
- Is there a safer way to accomplish the task?
- Are all necessary equipment guards in place?
- Are written procedures such as lockout/tagout being followed?
What you can do:
Initiate a hazard control program that
- lists all of the steps necessary to protect workers from exposure to a substance or system, and the procedures necessary to monitor worker exposure and their health to hazards like chemicals, materials or substances, or noise or vibration
- Includes a written policy outlining the methods being used to control the exposure and how the controls will be monitored
- Control hazards by
- elimination (or substitution) of the hazard from the workplace or substituting it
- engineering controls in the design or modification to plants, equipment, ventilation systems and processes to reduce the source of exposure
- applying administrative controls by altering the way the work is done, including timing, policies and other rules and practices
- providing appropriate personal protective equipment and making sure it is properly worn and properly maintained