Identifying Workplace Hazards

One of the greatest causes of workplace incidents is not identifying them beforehand. That sounds simplistic, but how does a company maintain a systematic and thorough oversight of workplace hazards? The issue involves looking at processes and at people with an eye to what could happen, what is likely to happen and how it can be avoided.

The first step in the process is to do consistent workplace inspections.

That doesn’t mean going over everything every day. A company can and should set up a schedule of inspections and follow-up maintenance though. A daily inspection of high-hazard areas is a good idea. These are places where machinery and equipment are frequently changed. Weekly inspection of manufacturing areas and storage places for caustic or dangerous chemicals are helpful as well. Most other places in the plant can be assessed monthly, except for reception and meeting rooms and offices. These can be inspected quarterly.

What do managers look for in the inspections?

Consistency is the key, and having a form or procedure will help. First, they can think about what kinds of things could go wrong. If the workplace has inadequate lighting, probably someone will fall. If sprinklers are blocked, they might not be effective in a fire. If extension cords are used excessively, electrocution or electrical fires may result. Second, they should think about how likely the situation is to occur, and what the consequences might be. That can lead them to look at causative factors like inadequate housekeeping or lack of training, unauthorized use of equipment and other issues.

A systematic approach to inspections could simplify the procedure.

Two basic tools of inspection are needed. The first is a job hazard analysis, which looks at how a job is done, what kind of equipment is used, and the training required for an employee to use it. The second tool is risk mapping which looks at the facility. In other words, one examines the worker and the other the workplace.

Here are some examples.

One of the most frequent workplace incidents is a fall from a high place. The company probably provides protective gear, but are employees using it? Are only authorized employees entering restricted work zones? Another issue is chemical spills or leakage of controlled substances. Do employees understand storage requirements for substances, and is there a protocol for accidents? If equipment is to be serviced or shut down, or if there are other issues, the company should have a lock-out procedure or a tagging policy. Workplace violence is a relatively new concern. Most of these incidents are caused by people who are not employed at the workplace, but companies can take precautions to keep employees safe if they must guard or deliver money or work alone in isolated areas.

Employee training is an important aspect of avoiding incidents at your business.

Consider whether there is adequate training for employees. That includes equipment handling, spill cleanup and related job skills. In addition to the training, the company should use some assessment tools to make certain the training was successful.

Collecting information is important in preventing workplace incidents.

Some documentation is required by OSHA and by insurance companies. Other information is important as well. A good risk inspection includes attention to the history of workplace incidents. Which are the most common, for instance? Investigation of accidents by employees and management is vital, as is documenting the findings. Sometimes “near misses” are excluded from documentation, but that information is crucial to preventing future incidents.

Companies that systematically scrutinize workplace safety risks and that rectify them are more secure places to work. Employees and managers alike should be alert to issues and report them. Companies must take steps to fix the problems before they become workplace incidents that result in injury or even death. OSHA compliance is not enough. Proactive companies look for probable concerns and rectify them to stay productive and competitive.

Adam Richards

About Adam Richards

Adam Richards is a semi-retired business professional originally from Bangor, Maine. He spent the majority of his career in sales and marketing where he rose to the marketing lead of a Fortune 1000 company. He then moved on to helping people as a career counselor that specifically helped bring families to self-sufficiency through finding them rewarding careers. He has now returned to Bangor for his retirement and spends his free time writing. This blog will be about everything he learned throughout his career. He'll write on career, workplace, education and technology issues as well as on trends, changes, and advice for the Maine job market and its employers.