HSE workplace risk assessment: Hazard identification and assessment

Blog »HSE workplace risk assessment: Hazard identification and assessment
One of the root causes of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidents is the failure to discover present hazards or that could have been foreseen. Therefore, a critical element of any effective safety and health program is a proactive, continuing process to identify and evaluate such hazards. Performing risk assessments of tasks performed at the workplace helps identify hazards, evaluate them, and then mitigate them if the risk is not tolerable.

Hazard identification and assessment

To identify, assess, and prioritize hazards to be corrected, employers and workers should:

  • Gather and review information about the hazards present or have the potential to be present in the workplace.
  • Conduct initial and recurring site inspections of the workplace to identify new or persistent hazards.
  • Investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents, and near misses to determine the primary hazards, causes, and safety and health program deficiencies.
  • Identify trends in injuries, illnesses, and hazards reported by categorizing similar incidents and near misses.
  • Consider hazards associated with emergency or non-routine situations.
  • Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents resulting from each hazard identified and prioritize corrective actions using this information.

Some hazards, such as housekeeping and slip/trip hazards, should be fixed as soon as they are found. An example of hazards that should be fixed right away includes an extension cord in the walkway or a coffee spill. Correcting hazards on the spot emphasizes the importance of safety and health in the workplace and takes advantage of a safety leadership opportunity for an employee or a supervisor.

There are many actions a workplace should complete to assess risks that could cause injury, illness, fire, explosion, environmental damage, property damage, and more. Follow the actions below for how to identify, assess, and prioritize workplace hazards.

Identify safety hazards

Hazards can be introduced over the years as processes or layouts change, equipment or tools become worn, maintenance is overlooked, or housekeeping practices deteriorate. Setting time to inspect the workplace for hazards regularly can help identify weaknesses so that they can be addressed before an incident occurs.

Conduct frequent inspections and have employees participate on the inspection team. Document hazards found during the inspections and ensure that the hazards found are mitigated promptly.

Include all areas and tasks in inspections, such as storage, equipment maintenance, office functions, and the work activities of on-site contractors, subcontractors, and temporary employees. Checklists are a great tool to assist employers in checking the workplace for hazards.

Identify health hazards

Identifying workers’ exposure to health hazards is usually more complicated than identifying physical safety hazards, like a chemical spill. For example, vapors may be invisible and may have no odor.

They also may not have an immediate noticeable harmful health effect. Health hazards include chemical hazards (solvents or toxic dust), physical hazards (noise or heat), biological hazards (infectious diseases), and ergonomic risk factors (repetitive motions or vibration).

Reviewing workers’ medical records can help identify health hazards associated with workplace exposures. Identify health hazards, conduct qualitative exposure assessments (such as using direct reading instruments), and review medical records to identify past cases of health hazards related to workplace exposures.

HSE Hazard

Conduct incident investigations

Workplace incidents, including injuries, illnesses, near misses, and reports of unsafe acts or conditions, provide an insight into where hazards exist. By thoroughly investigating incidents and reports, employers will identify hazards that can cause harm in the future.

The primary objective of an investigation must always be to identify the root causes to prevent future occurrences. Develop a specific procedure for conducting incident investigations to ensure an investigation begins immediately when an incident occurs. After identifying, analyzing, and correcting root causes, communicate the investigation results to managers, supervisors, and employees to prevent a recurrence.

Identify hazards associated with emergency and non-routine situations

Employers must recognize and prepare for emergencies that present risks. Non-routine or infrequent tasks, including maintenance and startup/shutdown activities, also present possible hazards.

Plans need to be developed for safely responding to hazards associated with foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine situations. When identifying emergency and non-routine situations, consider possible scenarios such as fires, chemical releases, spills, natural disasters, and workplace violence.

Characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify short term control measures, and prioritize the hazards for control

The next step is to assess and comprehend the hazards identified and the types of incidents resulting from worker exposure to those hazards. This information can be used to develop short-term controls and prioritize hazards for permanent control.

To get started with this step, evaluate each hazard by considering the severity of potential consequences, the likelihood that an incident or exposure will occur, and the number of workers who might be exposed.

Then, use interim control measures to protect workers until more permanent solutions can be implemented. Finally, prioritize the hazards so that those with the most significant and devastating risks are addressed first. According to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers have a constant responsibility to control recognized hazards and to protect workers.

After hazards have been identified and assessed, employers must implement adequate controls to protect workers from safety and health risks.