Course 700 - Introduction to Safety Management

Element 5: Hazard Identification, Analysis, and Control

Hazard Definition
Hazard Definition
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In module four, we studied about communication and how it can improve employee involvement in the company’s safety management system (SMS). In this module, we'll discuss the programs, processes, and procedures for identifying, analyzing, and controlling hazards and exposure to hazards.

What is a "Hazard" and "Exposure?"

Before we study identifying, analyzing, and controlling hazards and exposure in the workplace, it's important to know how OSHA defines these terms.

A hazard is defined as "any workplace condition that could cause an injury or illness to an employee."

There are two forms of exposure to hazards:

  1. Physical exposure. When an employee is within arm's length of a hazard.
  2. Environmental exposure. The employee can be anywhere in relation to the hazard. Examples include noise, hazardous atmospheres, and temperature extremes. Environmental hazards could affect one employee or everyone within a facility.

1. A workplace condition that could cause an injury or illness to an employee is defined as a/an _____.

a. exposure
b. hazard
c. incident
d. accident

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Look Around Your Workplace

It's easier to control the hazard than exposure.
If you look around your workplace, you may be able to locate a few hazardous conditions or work practices without too much trouble.

If you look around your workplace, you may be able to locate a few hazardous conditions or work practices without too much trouble. Did you know that at any time an OSHA inspector can enter your corporate front door to begin a comprehensive inspection? What would OSHA find? What do OSHA look for? With that in mind, wouldn't it be a smart idea for someone in the company to proactively play the role of an OSHA inspector? That's what we're going to talk about in this module. To start, let's look at some basic steps in the hazard identification and control process.

Step 1 - Identifying Hazards

The first step in the process is to identify hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors, and system weaknesses that might result in accidents. Safety inspections and observations are two effective hazard identification tools.

Step 2 - Analyzing Hazards

After you identify the hazards using safety inspections and observations, you need to analyze them. To be successful, assume all hazards can be prevented, eliminated, reduced, or controlled. The Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) is an excellent tool for analyzing the hazards inherent in specific jobs.

Step 3 - Controlling Hazards

Once you finish analyzing hazards, you need to eliminate or mitigate them. A systematic strategy, called the "Hierarchy of Controls," is an effective approach to do that.

Throughout the rest of this module, we'll discuss how to identify, analyze, and control hazards in the workplace so that the workplace is safe so employees don't get hurt or sick on the job

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2. What is a systematic strategy to eliminate or mitigate hazards?

a. Conduct safety inspections
b. The "Hierarchy of Controls"
c. Frequent OSHA consultations
d. Job Hazard Analyses (JHAs)

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Step 1: Identifying Hazards

Look for hazards in each of these three categories.
Look for hazards in each of these three categories.

To help identify hazards, we can group them into three categories: physical hazards, behavioral hazards, and systemic hazards.

  • Physical hazards. This first category includes: materials, tools, equipment, machinery, and the physical environment. Each of these represent hazardous physical conditions. It may seem counterintuitive, but physical hazards actually account for the fewest number of workplace accidents.
  • Behavioral hazards. This second category describes unsafe employee behaviors and practices in the workplace. Unsafe behaviors and practices account for more workplace accidents.
  • Systemic hazards. The last category includes weaknesses in the safety management system structure, design, and performance. System weaknesses contribute to the unique hazardous physical conditions and unsafe personal behaviors, and are ultimately responsible for most injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

Look for hazards in each of these three categories when conducting inspections, observations, and investigations. Let's look at each category in more detail.

3. Which of the three workplace hazard categories may ultimately be responsible for most, if not all, accidents in the workplace?

a. Physical
b. Behavioral
c. Programmatic
d. Systemic

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Step 1: Identifying Hazards (Continued)

Two common methods are used to identify hazards in the workplace: safety inspections and observations. Both of these methods should be accomplished regularly. The frequency of inspections and observations should be based on the nature of the hazards in the workplace.

Safety Inspection

Conduct safety inspections to identify hazards.
Conduct safety inspections to identify hazards.
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To identify hazards in the workplace, the most common strategy is the walk-around inspection, and we'll cover this strategy first. Here are some important points to remember about safety inspections:

  • Most companies conduct safety inspections in compliance with OSHA rule requirements. But, is that good enough? Safety inspections may be effective, but only if the people conducting the inspection are properly educated and trained in hazard identification and control concepts and principles specific to your company. In high hazard industries which see change on a daily basis, it takes more than an occasional inspection to keep the workplace safe from hazards.

  • In world-class safety cultures supervisors, as well as all employees, inspect their areas of responsibility as often as the hazards of the materials, equipment, tools, environment, and tasks demand. It's really a judgment call, but if safety is involved, it's better to inspect often.

  • Employees should inspect the materials, equipment, and tools they use, and their immediate workstation for hazardous conditions at the start of each workday. They should inspect equipment such as forklifts, trucks, and other vehicles before using them at the start of each shift. Again, it's better to inspect closely and often.

4. Which two procedures are commonly used to identify hazardous conditions?

a. Annual safety inspections and quarterly job hazard analyses (JHA)
b. Third-party evaluations and safety manager inspections
c. Regular safety inspections and observations
d. OSHA inspections and safety committee analysis

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Step 1: Identifying Hazards (Continued)

Always use checklists in your safety inspections.
Always use checklists in your safety inspections.

The Safety Inspection's Flaw

By its very nature, the walk-around inspection, as a process, suffers from a very serious flaw. It is ineffective in uncovering unsafe behaviors because most inspectors look primarily at hazardous conditions and do not take enough time to effectively analyze individual task procedures.

Safety inspectors may walk into an area, look up, look down, look all around, and possibly ask a few questions, and move on to the next work area. In fact, the safety inspection may be effective in uncovering only a small percentage of the causes for workplace accidents because the process only looks for conditions. It's possible to inspect a workplace on a Monday, and experience a fatality the next day as a result of an unsafe work behavior that was missed the day before.

Inspection Checklists

To reduce the chance of missing hazards and behaviors,develop checklists with standard questions. Click on the button to see steps if you are asked to write questions for a safety inspection.

  • Determine the area to be inspected.
  • Ask workers in the area what tasks/jobs they do.
  • Ask them to send you a copy of applicable rules.
  • When you receive the rules (don't panic) read through the applicable sections and mark those rules that you feel might result in serious injury if violated.
  • Change each marked rule into a simple question. Questions will start with the words: Do, does, is, are.
  • Construct your checklist using the questions you have developed.
  • Show your boss. He or she will be surprised! (You will probably become a safety director!)

You may use this Self-inspection Checklist as a reference. (Source: OSHA)

5. Why is the safety inspection process ineffective in uncovering the causes for most accidents?

a. Inspections focus primarily on hazardous conditions
b. Inspections are never conducted often enough
c. Inspections only uncover common unsafe behaviors
d. Inspections are too long and tedious

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Step 1: Identifying Hazards (Continued)


Always use checklists in your safety inspections.
Observations are valuable in helping to improve behaviors.

To overcome the weakness inherent in the safety inspection process, a safety observation program is used because it focuses primarily on employee behaviors, not physical hazards. The Safety Observation Program can help prevent injuries and illnesses by observing employees on the job.

There are two types of observation programs: formal and informal:

  • Formal observation programs include written plans that detail the observation process, participant responsibilities, tracking, reporting, and results.
  • Informal observation programs do not include written plans. Usually safety committees and supervisors conduct random walk-around observations, and use the information to correct unsafe behaviors, as well as physical hazards.

Click on the button to see what you can do to make your observation successful.

Always use checklists in your safety inspections.
Use a method to track observations.

Things you can do to have a successful observation program

  • train all participants about the program and their responsibilities;
  • do NOT result in any form of progressive discipline for observed behaviors;
  • include effective positive how-to corrective instruction and recognition;
  • address the root causes for the unsafe behaviors and physical hazards observed;
  • use well-designed cards or software applications to track observations;
  • result in effective corrective actions and safety management system improvements;

A trained team of observers will make observations of employees at work more effective and consistent. The observations should note the date and time, location, employee being observed, and results of the observation.

Click on the buttons to see a list of observer responsibilities, examples of behaviors observed, and a video describing a typical observation program.

Observers have the following responsibilities:

  • attend observation program training;
  • participate in targeted observations as assigned;
  • partner with other observers to share experience and findings;
  • coach new observers when they conduct initial observations;
  • complete the required number of observations;
  • observes employees performing various jobs;
  • coach and correct unsafe behaviors on the spot;
  • provide specific positive feedback on behaviors to employees working safely; and
  • review observation results to recommend program improvements and to plan future observations

Behaviors to observe include:

  • PPE – Is the worker properly using PPE?
  • Respiratory Protection – Is the worker properly using respirators as required?
  • Ladder Safety – Is the worker using ladders safely using three-point control procedure?
  • Forklift Operation – Is the worker correctly using forklift and other powered industrial trucks (PITs)?
  • Scaffolding – Is the scaffold properly installed and is the worker working safely on the scaffold?
  • Housekeeping – Is the worker keeping the workstation clean and not creating trip hazards?
  • Proper Tool for the Job – Is the worker using a tool that is proper for the job and using the tool safely?
  • Ergonomics – Is the worker using proper postures, lifting techniques, and positioning, and is the workstation properly designed for the job?
  • Improper LO/TO – Is the worker working on a hazardous energy source following proper LO/TO procedures?
  • Other/Comments – Is the worker generally behaving in a safe manner (not hurried, or engaged in horseplay)?

6. What process is used to overcome the weakness inherent in safety inspections?

a. Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)
b. Observation
c. Incident investigation
d. Safety committee meeting

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Step 2: Analyzing Hazards and Exposure

We can define "process" as a systematic examination and evaluation of data or information, by breaking it into its component parts to uncover their interrelationships. In the workplace, the process of analysis breaks down job procedures, incidents, and accidents to determine component parts and causes. Two common methods are used to analyze hazards and exposure: the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and incident/accident investigation.

Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)

The Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) can answer weaknesses of the walk-around inspection process. It uncovers unsafe work practices as well as hazardous conditions because sufficient time is given to close analysis of one unique task at a time.

A typical JHA is accomplished by a team composed of at least one employee and one analyst using a step-by-step process: Click on the button to see the steps in the JHA process.

  1. The employee accomplishes several cycles of the task.
  2. The analyst observes and takes notes about what's being done.
  3. After the observation is completed, the analyst divides the task into a sequence of unique steps.
  4. The team analyzes each step to identify hazardous materials, equipment, tools, and unsafe exposures.
  5. The team next determines the safety precautions needed to eliminate or mitigate the hazards in each step.
  6. The team takes the information gathered to write a safe job procedure (SJP) for the entire task.
  7. The team asks another employee to give the SJP a fresh look by performing the task to ensure the steps are designed to prevent injuries and illnesses.

The SJP may then be used as a valuable training resource. Each JHA should be reviewed at least annually or whenever there is a change in the task that might introduce a new hazard.

You can get more information on the JHA process in OSHAcademy Course 706, Conducting a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA).

7. What is the next step in the JHA process after identifying the hazards in each step?

a. Divide the task unique steps listed sequentially
b. Analyze each step to uncover hazardous materials, equipment, tools, and unsafe exposures
c. Develop a written safe work procedure (SJP) for the entire task
d. Analyze the hazards and exposures to determine safety precautions

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Step 2: Analyzing Hazards and Exposure (Continued)

Always look for root causes for hazards and exposure.
You're not done until you dig up the roots.
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Incident/Accident Investigation

Investigating a worksite provides employers and workers the opportunity to identify hazards in their operations and shortcomings in their safety and health programs. Most importantly, it enables employers and workers to identify and implement the corrective actions necessary to prevent future incidents and accidents.

Investigations that focus on identifying and correcting root cause system weaknesses, not on finding fault or blame, also improve workplace morale and increase productivity, by demonstrating an employer's commitment to a safe and healthful workplace.

Surface Causes. The surface causes for accidents are the unique hazardous conditions and behaviors that lead up to and cause accidents.

Root Causes. Root causes are the safety management system weaknesses that pre-exist and contribute to the unique hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices that cause accidents.

We will have a more complete discussion of the incident/accident investigation process including surface and root causes in the next module.

8. Which of the following cause categories represents unique conditions and individual unsafe behaviors?

a. Actual causes
b. Root causes
c. Direct causes
d. Surface causes

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Hierarchy of Controls
Click to enlarge.

Step 3: Controlling Hazards and Exposure

Traditionally, a prioritized hazard control strategy has been used to implement feasible and effective controls. We encourage the use of the "Hierarchy of Controls" (HOC) strategy as described within the ANSI/ASSP Z10-2012, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, to control hazards. Let's look at examples of hazard and exposure controls.

Hazard Controls

The first three control methods focus on controlling the hazard.

  1. Elimination: The best solution is to totally eliminate the hazard. For instance, a simple way to eliminate the need to work at elevation is to eliminate the need to use a ladder to change ceiling light bulbs by using a extension pole.
  2. Substitution: Substitution is the next-best solution. For instance, the employer might replace large heavy containers with smaller containers.
  3. Engineering Controls: Design or redesign equipment. In this case, printing equipment might be designed to prevent the possibility of a worker getting caught by a rotating shaft.

Exposure Controls

The last three control methods focus on controlling behaviors to reduce exposure to the hazard. These controls are farther down the hierarchy because they work only so long as employees comply with the controls' requirements. Unfortunately, safety management systems that rely solely on compliant behaviors are inherently unreliable.

  1. Warnings: Warnings may be visual, audible, or both. They may also be tactile. Visual warnings include signs, labels, tags, and lights. Audible warnings include alarms, bells, beepers, sirens, horns and announcement systems. Tactile warnings may include vibration devices or air fans. For example, a sign would be posted outside a confined space that forbids entry.
  2. Administrative Controls: These controls focus on mandating safe behaviors and work practices using written safety policies, procedures, rules, supervision, and training. These controls effectively is a challenge because supervisors must regularly monitor their employees as they perform tasks. Bottom line, these controls work only so long as employees follow them.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The use of PPE is probably the most common control method used for controlling hazards. PPE forms a barrier between workers and hazards. For instance, knee pads might be used to protect the knees when laying carpet.

9. Which of the following Hierarchy of Control methods controls hazards through design or redesign?

a. Administrative controls
b. Engineering controls
c. Personal protective equipment
d. Elimination

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The Missing Guardrail

You are conducting a walk-around safety inspection when you notice the guardrail along an elevated platform area is missing. As you now understand, the missing guardrail represents a hazardous condition and would be considered a surface cause if an accident occurred. But it is actually a symptom of deeper root causes or system weaknesses.

To best make sure the guardrail gets replaced, and remains in place, you must always consider and correct the root causes/system weaknesses that allowed the hazardous condition in the first place. So, what were the system weaknesses in this example? Here are some questions you might ask to dig up the root causes for the missing guardrail:

  • Are corrective and preventive maintenance programs in place?
  • Are employees reporting hazards?
  • Does safety training cover the guardrail requirements?
  • Is an incentive program in place to motivate employees to report hazards?

Ownership: A Key Principle

Employee involvement in hazard identification, analysis, and control activities helps ensure they will gain a sense of ownership in safety and will be more likely to use the safe job procedures when not being directly supervised. If they're involved in developing safe job procedures, they're more likely to see them as their own procedures.

10. A hazard is actually _____ of deeper root causes or system weaknesses.

a. a pre-warning
b. the end-point
c. a symptom
d. a precursor

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Match the Hazard



On February 7, 2008, fourteen workers were fatally burned in a series of sugar dust explosions at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia. This CSB safety video explains how the accident occurred.

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