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?

Caution asbestos hazard sign

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but seemingly 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.

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 very important workers and supervisors are knowledgeable to ensure 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 one of the company's core values.

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?

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

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!

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 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, and
  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

Road closed sign
Most hazards are recognized by employers or the industry.

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.

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.

Road closed sign
Many hazards are reasonably foreseeable by workers.

"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.


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.


Titanium dust, produced during the manufacturing process, caught fire from an equipment spark. The fire spread to an adjacent room which contained an open can of gasoline (petrol). An employee assigned to work in both rooms was burned when the fire spread from the first to the second room. The employee received second-degree burns to the face and upper-back.

What is the foreseeable hazard?

If gasoline in the second room is a rare occurrence, then it would not be considered a foreseeable hazard. It is only necessary to prove the fire hazard, the presence of titanium dust, was reasonably foreseeable.

Fall Protection

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

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. Employees may fall to:

  • a lower level, for instance, from a roof to the ground, or
  • to the same surface upon which the employee is working, for instance from a slip or trip.

You can identify fall hazards and control them before they cause injuries. 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.

Company Cited for Fall Hazards

OSHA cited a company for one willful and four serious violations related to fall hazards after a worker was injured by falling from a sixth floor balcony while attempting to access a suspension scaffold. 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. Proposed penalties total $136,290. 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.

  • The willful violation was for 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.
  • The four serious violations were for (1) failure to install cross bracing on the entire scaffold, (2) failure to ensure personal fall arrest systems were attached to a secure anchorage point and not scaffold guard rails, (3) failure to train workers to recognize and avoid hazards including falls, and (4) failure to ensure proper step ladder use.

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

Construction worker perched on a steel beam
Do you think this could be a fall hazard?
(Click to Enlarge)

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

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

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 walking/working surfaces have the strength to support workers and their equipment and then identify 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 Hazards 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

If you can't eliminate the hazard, take steps to prevent or control a fall. Here are some ways to do this:

  • To prevent falls, use covers, guardrails, handrails, perimeter safety cables, and personal fall-restraint systems.
  • To control falls, use 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

Poster showing what parts of the body are affected by injury and illness
Ergonomic risk factors in the worker, task, and environment.
(Click to Enlarge)

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. 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. Workers come in all shapes and sizes, and have varying degrees of physical fitness.
  • Risk factors inherent in the task. Job tasks, especially repetitive tasks, can present risk factors that increase the likelihood of an injury.
  • Risk factors inherent in the environment. The workplace environment, within which the worker and job exist, may also contain exposures to risk factors.

Each of these ergonomic categories can present risk factors that can result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). To better understand ergonomics, we need to understand musculoskeletal disorders. Let's take a closer look at these MSDs.

Basic Ergonomics (Continued)

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Poster showing what parts of the body are affected by injury and illness
Part of the body affected by injury or illness
(Click to Enlarge)

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, and
  • Low back pain

Contributing Factors

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.

The contributing factors you should be aware of include:

  • Awkward postures,
  • Repetitive motions,
  • Forceful exertions,
  • Pressure points (e.g., local contact stress),
  • Vibration, and
  • The environment (e.g., light, noise, temperature extremes).

For more information on ergonomics, take OSHAcademy Courses 711, Introduction to Ergonomics, and Course 722, Ergonomics Program Management.

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. Each of the following is an example of an electrical hazard that could cause shock, injury, or fatality:

Badly Wired Circuit
Improperly wired electrical components pose serious hazards.
(Click to Enlarge)
  • Inadequate electrical wiring,
  • Exposed electrical parts,
  • Overhead power lines,
  • Wires with bad insulation,
  • Improper grounding of electrical circuits,
  • Overloaded circuits,
  • Damaged power tools and equipment,
  • Using the wrong electrical protective equipment,
  • Using the wrong power tool,
  • Metal ladders, and
  • Wet conditions.

Real World Accident

A meter technician 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.

More than half of all electrocutions are caused by direct worker contact with energized power lines.

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.

Clearance Distances

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.

Electrical Safety

Badly Wired Circuit
Faulty wiring can cause a grounding hazard.
(Click to Enlarge)

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, 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.

The metal parts of motors, appliances, or electronics that are plugged into improperly grounded circuits may become energized, creating a serious hazard.

Electrical Safety

Badly Wired Circuit
Electrical work in wet conditions can be fatal.
(Click to Enlarge)

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.

You don't have to be standing in water to be electrocuted.

Hazard Recognition

Every job has workplace hazards. Knowing what the hazards are is an important step in being safe on the job. This PUSH video introduces workers to potential hazards in the workplace and gives tips for identifying hazards in any workplace.


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.