Course 600 - Introduction to Occupational Safety and Health

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Hazard Awareness

What are the Hazards?

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but supposed obvious hazards can be easily overlooked. Many workplace's contain hazardous materials including raw materials (wood, metal, plastic) to be manufactured into finished goods, and toxic chemicals (solvents, acids, bases, detergents) used at various stages of the process. As an employee, being aware of these hazards is important to ensuring your safety. There can be many hazards in the workplace, and being able to identify these hazards can help prevent accidental injury or illness.

Caution asbestos hazard sign

Other hazards you should be aware of:

  • Stationary machinery and equipment may not be properly guarded, or in poor working order because of poor preventive/corrective maintenance.
  • Tools may not be properly maintained.
  • Saws may not be sharpened or safety harnesses may be old and in need of replacement.
  • The work environment might include extreme noise, flammable or combustible atmospheres, or poor workstation design.
  • Floors may be slippery and isles cluttered.
  • Guardrails, ladders, or floor-hole covers may be missing or damaged.
  • Employees might be fatigued, distracted in some way, or otherwise lack the mental or physical capacity to accomplish work safely.

Some or all of these potential safety hazards may exist in a workplace. The list could go on and on. It's vitally important that workers and supervisors are knowledgeable to ensure that workplace hazards are identified and eliminated as soon as possible.

A proactive supervisor should encourage employees to report any potential hazards immediately. Safety should always be a company's first priority. Many businesses do place a high value on safety, but not all do.

Although an employer is responsible for identifying workplace hazards, you should be proactive about your safety and be aware of your environment and potential hazards.

What is a Hazard?

In the previous section, we listed several different types of hazards. So why are we asking what a hazard is? One of the goals of this training is to give you the tools to help identify hazards in the workplace. In order to do this, it's important to understand what a hazard is!

Road closed sign
Signs can be used to warn of potential hazards.

OSHA usually defines a hazard as, "a danger which threatens physical harm to employees." Expanding on that basic definition we can think of a hazard as an "unsafe workplace condition or practice (danger) that could cause an injury or illnesses (harm) to the employee."

A hazard may be an object (tools, equipment, machinery, materials) or a person (when distracted, mentally/physically incapable). It's important to know a hazard is only one part in the "accident formula" described. It takes a hazard and exposure before an accident can occur.

The first step in controlling workplace hazards is to first identify them. We want to determine what hazards are present. You want to know what a hazard looks like, what kind of accidents might it cause, and how severe the resulting injuries might be.

One way to identify hazards is to perform a safety inspection. Safety inspections should do more than simply identify hazardous conditions. They should provide useful data for the purpose of effective analysis and evaluation of the safety management system. Sounds complicated, but it's really not.

There are five basic methods you can use to identify workplace hazards before an accident occurs:

  1. informal observations, and formal observation programs
  2. comprehensive company-wide surveys
  3. individual interviews
  4. walk-around inspections
  5. documentation review

You may not be the person conducting the safety inspection in your workplace, but if you understand what it is, you might be able to provide valuable information as a part of the process.

"Recognized" Hazards

Occasionally, students ask what is considered a "recognized" hazard in the workplace. As described in OSHA's Field Compliance Manual, recognition of a hazard is established on the basis of industry recognition, employer recognition, or "common sense" recognition criteria. Let's take a closer look at these three categories to better understand what OSHA means.

  • Industry Recognition. A hazard is recognized if the employer's industry recognizes it. Recognition by an industry, other than the industry to which the employer belongs, is generally insufficient to prove industry recognition. Although evidence of recognition by the employer's specific branch within an industry is preferred, evidence that the employer's industry recognizes the hazard may be sufficient.
  • Employer Recognition. A recognized hazard can be established by evidence of actual employer knowledge. Evidence of such recognition may consist of written or oral statements made by the employer or other management or supervisory personnel during or before the OSHA inspection, or instances where employees have clearly called the hazard to the employer's attention.
  • Common Sense Recognition. If industry or employer recognition of the hazard cannot be established, recognition can still be established if it is concluded that any reasonable person would have recognized the hazard. This argument is used by OSHA only in flagrant cases. Note: Throughout our courses we argue that "common sense" is a dangerous concept in safety. Employers should not assume that accidents in the workplace are the result of a lack of common sense.

"Foreseeable" Hazards

Another important question to ask about the nature of a hazard relates to whether it was "foreseeable." A hazard for which OSHA issues a citation must be reasonably foreseeable. All the factors which could cause a hazard need not be present in the same place at the same time in order to prove foreseeability of the hazard; e.g., an explosion need not be imminent.

Remember, a foreseeable hazard is one that may be reasonably anticipated. Employees and employers should always evaluate hazards based on what could be anticipated, not just what the current environment is at that moment.

For example:

Worker using plasma cutter
Ignition sources must be identified in order to ensure proper precautions can be taken to prevent hazards. These are foreseeable hazards.
(Click to Enlarge)

If combustible gas and oxygen are present in sufficient quantities in a confined area to cause an explosion if ignited but no ignition source is present or could be present, no OSHA violation would exist. If an ignition source is available at the workplace and the employer has not taken sufficient safety precautions to preclude its use in the confined area, then a foreseeable hazard may exist.

It is necessary to establish the reasonable foreseeability of the general workplace hazard, rather than the particular hazard which led to the accident.

For example:

A titanium dust fire may have spread from one room to another only because an open can of gasoline was in a second room. An employee who usually worked in both rooms was burned in the second room from the gasoline. The presence of gasoline in the second room may be a rare occurrence. It is not necessary to prove that a fire in both rooms was reasonably foreseeable. It is necessary only to prove that the fire hazard, in this case due to the presence of titanium dust, was reasonably foreseeable.

All these activities to identify hazards in the workplace are so important to the overall effectiveness of your safety management system. Be sure you integrate these activities into the line positions...employees, supervisors and is a line responsibility!

Now that we have learned about hazards in general, let's take a closer look at some specific workplace hazards you need to be aware of.

Fall Protection

A fall hazard is anything in the workplace that could cause an unintended loss of balance or bodily support and result in a fall. Fall hazards are foreseeable. You can identify them and eliminate or control them before they cause injuries.

Makeshift scaffold on top of building
Makeshift platforms, such as this, represent a significant fall hazard.
(Click to Enlarge)

Fall hazards cause accidents such as the following:

  • A worker walking near an unprotected leading edge trips over a protruding board.
  • A worker slips while climbing an icy stairway.
  • A makeshift scaffold collapses under the weight of four workers and their equipment.
  • A worker carrying a sheet of plywood on a flat roof steps into a skylight opening.

Here is a real-life example involving a company cited for violations related to fall hazards. As you will read, a contractor fell from a sixth floor balcony.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Blade Contracting Inc., based in Staten Island, with seven safety – including one willful – violations for fall hazards at a Jersey City, N.J., work site. The investigation was initiated after a worker with the masonry contractor was injured by falling from a sixth floor balcony while attempting to access a suspension scaffold. Proposed penalties total $136,290.

The willful violation reflects the use of makeshift devices on top of scaffolds to increase the level height for working and a failure to protect workers on scaffolds from fall hazards. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowledge or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Four serious violations involve a failure to install cross bracing on the entire scaffold, ensure personal fall arrest systems were attached to a secure anchorage point and not scaffold guard rails, train workers to recognize and avoid hazards including falls, and ensure proper step ladder use. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

In this example, the company had several violations that contributed to the worker's injuries. All of these hazards were foreseeable and could have been prevented.

How to Evaluate Fall Hazards

The purpose of evaluating fall hazards is to determine how to eliminate or control them before they cause injuries. Below are important factors to consider in conducting an evaluation.

Involve Others

You may need others to help you evaluate fall hazards. Involve others who may have experience identifying fall hazards, such as fellow employees or supervisors; they'll help you identify the hazards and determine how to eliminate or control them. Involving others also strengthens your company's safety and health program.

Identify Tasks That Could Expose Workers To Falls

Construction worker perched on a steel beam
Do you think this could be a fall hazard?
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As part of the hazard identification process, evaluate each task you will be performing and look for anything that might expose you to a fall hazard. For example, if you will be climbing a ladder to change a light bulb, make sure the ladder is not damaged and that the ladder is stable.

Ensure all walking/working surfaces have the strength to support workers and their equipment and then identify all tasks that could expose workers to falls. A walking/working surface is any surface, horizontal or vertical, on which a person walks or works.

Identify fall hazards that you can eliminate

Eliminating a fall hazard is the most effective fall-protection strategy. Here are some ways to eliminate fall hazards:

  • Perform construction work on the ground before lifting or tilting it to an elevated position.
  • Install permanent stairs early in the project so that workers don't need to use ladders between floors.
  • Use tool extensions to perform work from the ground.

Prevent Fall Hazards

Worker on a ladder
The use of safety equipment, such as this fall-restraint device, can help reduce the potential for workplace accidents.

If you can't eliminate fall hazards, you need to prevent falls or control them so workers who may fall are not injured. Eliminating fall hazards is the best prevention, but if you can't eliminate the hazard, you must take steps to prevent or control a fall. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Ways to prevent falls include covers, guardrails, handrails, perimeter safety cables, and personal fall-restraint systems.
  • Ways to control falls include personal fall-arrest systems, positioning-device systems, and safety-net systems. Use these fall-protection systems only when you can't eliminate fall hazards or prevent falls from occurring.

Supported Access

Portable ladders, supported scaffolds, and aerial lifts let you get to a work area and support you while you work. They make getting to a work area easy, but they can cause falls when they're not used properly.

Portable Ladders

Portable ladders are versatile, economical, and easy to use. However, workers sometimes use them without thinking about using them safely. Each year, most workers are injured when they fall from ladders. Most of the falls are less than 10 feet.

We use ladders to do all sorts of tasks, so it's not surprising that many types of ladders are available. Let's look at the most common types.

Common Types

Straight Ladder
Straight Ladder. The most common type of portable ladder. Length cannot exceed 30 feet. Available in wood, metal, and reinforced fiberglass. Supports only one worker.

Photo courtesy:
Standard Folding Ladder
Standard Folding Ladder. Folding ladders have flat steps, a hinged back, and is not adjustable. For use only on firm, level surfaces. Available in metal, wood, or reinforced fiberglass. Must have a metal spreader or locking arm and cannot exceed 20 feet. Supports only one worker.

Photo courtesy:
Extension Ladder
Extension Ladder. Extension ladders offer the most length in a general-purpose ladder. They have two or more adjustable sections. The sliding upper section must be on top of the lower section. Made of wood, metal, or fiberglass. Maximum length depends on material. Supports only one worker.

Photo courtesy:
Platform Ladder
Platform Ladder. Platform ladders have a large, stable platform near the top that supports one worker. Length cannot exceed 20 feet.

Photo courtesy:
Trestle Ladder
Trestle Ladder. Trestle ladders have two sections that are hinged at the top and form equal angles with the base. Used in pairs to support planks or staging. Rungs are not used as steps. Length cannot exceed 20 feet.

Photo courtesy:
Tripod Orchard Ladder
Tripod (Orchard) Ladder. Tripod ladders have a flared base and a single back leg that provides support on soft, uneven ground. Length cannot exceed 16 feet. Metal and reinforced fiberglass versions are available. Supports only one worker.

Photo courtesy:

It's important to choose the right ladder for the right job. Using a ladder for a task that it was not designed for may increase the risk of falling.

Basic Ergonomics

Webster's New World Dictionary (College Edition) defines ergonomics as "The Study of the problems of people in adjusting to their environment; especially the science that seeks to adapt work or working conditions to suit the individual worker.” To better understand what ergonomics is and how it affects you and other employees, we need to go explore the topic further.

Ergonomics may be thought of as the science of fitting the job to the individual worker. When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as sprains and strains, can result.

Poster showing what parts of the body are affected by injury and illness
Part of the body affected by injury or illness
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Musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace are common and often the result of poor ergonomics. Over the last decade, ergonomics in the workplace has become more of a safety and health focus. As a result, ergonomic related injuries have been on the decline. The graph on the next page shows the decreasing trend in these types of injuries.

Ergonomics studies the various risk factors brought to a job. Listed below are three areas within which ergonomic risk factors exist.

  • Risk factors inherent in the worker
  • Risk factors inherent in the task
  • Risk factors inherent in the environment

Workers come in all shapes and sizes, each with unique attributes that present certain ergonomic risk factors to a given job. The task(s) of the job can present risk factors that increase the likelihood of an injury. Finally, the workplace environment, within which the worker and job exist, may also contain exposures to risk factors.

To better understand ergonomics, we need to understand musculoskeletal disorders. Let's take a closer look at these MSDs.

Basic Ergonomics (Continued)

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles, and supporting structures such as intervertebral discs. They represent a wide range of disorders, which can differ in severity from mild, periodic symptoms to severe, chronic and debilitating conditions.

Below is a list of examples.

  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • tenosynovitis
  • tension neck syndrome
  • low back pain

MSDs are often confused with ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of workers. In other words, MSDs are the problem and ergonomics is a solution.

Contributing factors are aspects of work tasks that can lead to fatigue, MSD symptoms and injuries, or other types of problems. These factors may be present in one or more of the tasks employees must perform to accomplish their jobs.

Man Using a Jackhammer
Repetitive vibration injuries can cause permanent tissue damage.

The contributing factors you should be aware of include:

  • awkward postures
  • repetitive motions
  • forceful exertions
  • pressure points (e.g., local contact stress)
  • vibration

There are also environmental factors associated with the workplace that can cause problems. Extreme high temperatures can increase the rate at which the body will fatigue. Exposure of the hands and feet to cold temperatures can decrease blood flow, muscle strength, and manual dexterity. These conditions can also cause excessive grip force to be applied to tool handles or objects. Another problem may be caused by tools or equipment that exhausts cold or hot air directly onto the operator. In addition, the lighting in a workplace may be too dark or too bright for the work task. This may result in employees assuming awkward postures to accomplish work tasks and a loss of product quality.

Electrical Safety

The first step toward protecting yourself when dealing with electricity is recognizing the many hazards you face on the job. To do this, you must know which situations can place you in danger. Knowing where to look helps you to recognize hazards.

Badly Wired Circuit
Improperly wired electrical components pose a serious hazard.
(Click to Enlarge)
  • Inadequate wiring is dangerous.
  • Exposed electrical parts are dangerous.
  • Overhead power lines are dangerous.
  • Wires with bad insulation can give you a shock.
  • Electrical systems and tools that are not grounded or double-insulated are dangerous.
  • Overloaded circuits are dangerous.
  • Damaged power tools and equipment are electrical hazards.
  • Using the wrong PPE is dangerous.
  • Using the wrong tool is dangerous.
  • Some on-site chemicals are harmful.
  • Defective ladders and scaffolding are dangerous
  • Ladders that conduct electricity are dangerous.
  • Electrical hazards can be made worse if the worker, location, or equipment is wet.

Case Study

A 40 year old male meter technician had just completed a seven week basic lineman training course. He worked as a meter technician during normal working hours and as a line during unplanned outages. One evening, he was called to repair a residential power outage. By the time he arrived at the site of the outage, he had already worked two hours of overtime and worked 14 straight hours the day before. At the site, a tree limb had fallen across an overhead power line. The neutral wire in the line was severed and the two energized 120-volt wires were disconnected. The worker removed the tree limb and climbed up a power pole to reconnect the three wires. He was wearing insulated gloves, a hard hat, and safety glasses.

He prepared the wires to be connected. While handling the wires, one of the energized wires caught the cuff of his left glove and pulled the cuff down. The conductor contacted the victim's forearm near the wrist. He was electrocuted and fell backwards. He was wearing a climbing belt, which left him hanging upside down from the pole. Paramedics arrived five minutes after the contact. The power company lowered his dead body 30 minutes later.

Several factors may have contributed to this incident. Below are some ways to eliminate these risk factors:

  • Ask for assistance when you are assigned tasks that cannot be safely completed alone. The task assigned to the victim could not have been done safely by only one person.
  • Do not work overtime performing hazardous tasks that are not part of your normal assignments.
  • Employees should only be given tasks they are qualified to perform.
  • All employees below the journeyman level should be supervised

Electrical Safety (Continued)

Overhead Power Line Hazards

High voltage power lines
Overhead power lines represent a serious hazard and require specialized training and precautions.

Most people do not realize overhead power lines are typically not insulated. More than half of all electrocutions are caused by direct worker contact with energized power lines. Power line workers must be especially aware of the dangers of overhead lines. In the past, 80% of all lineman deaths were caused by contacting a live wire with a bare hand. Due to such incidents, all linemen now wear special rubber gloves that protect them up to 34,500 volts. Today, most electrocutions involving overhead power lines are caused by failure to maintain proper work distances.

Shocks and electrocutions occur where physical barriers are not in place to prevent contact with the wires. When dump trucks, cranes, work platforms, or other conductive materials (such as pipes and ladders) contact overhead wires, the equipment operator or other workers can be killed. If you do not maintain required clearance distances from power lines, you can be shocked and killed. (The minimum distance for voltages up to 50kV is 10 feet. For voltages over 50kV, the minimum distance is 10 feet plus 4 inches for every 10 kV over 50kV.) Never store materials and equipment under or near over-head power lines. You need to recognize that overhead power lines are a hazard.

Improper Grounding Hazards

If an electrical system is not grounded properly, a hazard exists. The most common OSHA electrical violation is improper grounding of equipment and circuitry. The metal parts of an electrical wiring system we touch (switch plates, ceiling light fixtures, conduit, etc.) should be grounded and at 0 volts. If the system is not grounded properly, these parts may become energized. Metal parts of motors, appliances, or electronics that are plugged into improperly grounded circuits may be energized. When a circuit is not grounded properly,

Improperly Ground Circuit
a hazard exists because unwanted voltage cannot be safely eliminated. If there is no safe path to ground for fault currents, exposed metal parts in damaged appliances can become energized. Extension cords may not provide a continuous path to ground because of a broken ground wire or plug. If you contact a defective electrical device that is not grounded (or grounded improperly); you will be shocked. You need to recognize that an improperly grounded electrical system is a hazard.

Wet Conditions Hazards

Working in wet conditions is hazardous because you may become an easy path for electrical current. For instance, if you touch a live wire while standing in even a puddle of water, you will probably receive a shock. Damaged insulation, equipment, or tools can expose you to live electrical parts. A damaged tool may not be grounded properly, so the housing of the tool may be energized, causing you to receive a shock. Improperly grounded metal switch plates and ceiling lights are especially hazardous in wet conditions. If you touch a live electrical component with a non-insulated hand tool, you are more likely to receive a shock when standing in water. Remember, you don't have to be standing in water to be electrocuted. Wet clothing, high humidity, and perspiration also increase your chances of being electrocuted. You need to recognize that all wet conditions are hazards.

Here are some short interesting videos related to what you are learning!

Falls in Construction - Leading Edge Work

Falls in Construction - Fixed Scaffolding

Falls in Construction - Reroofing


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. How does OSHA define a "hazard?"

2. According to the text, it takes both ______ and ______ before an accident can occur.

3. Ways to control falls include all of the following, except _____.

4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is an example of a Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD).

5. What causes more than half of all electrocutions?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.