Course 701 - Effective OSH Committee Operations

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

Hazard Identification and Analysis Tools

Right Tools for the Job

Now that you've got a good idea about the training requirements for safety committees, it's time to take a look at some of the tools available to the safety committee to identify hazards in the workplace and determine how to best correct those hazards.

Workplace Accidents

Earlier, we talked about the importance of understanding the nature of workplace hazards that are manifested primarily as hazardous conditions, unsafe work practices, and ineffective administrative controls. Which of these three categories result in the most accidents?

Unfortunately hazardous conditions alone account for as little as 3 percent of all workplace accidents. Yet, most of the time we look primarily for unsafe conditions when conducting a walk-around inspection. OSHA inspections are geared toward discovering unsafe conditions also. It's very possible that your company could conduct an inspection on Tuesday, and a fatality occur on Wednesday as a result of unsafe work practices that were not uncovered during the inspection the day before.

Unsafe work practices and behaviors account for far more accidents in the workplace, up to 95%, but what are the factors that allow those unsafe work practices to exist? That's the key to a safe workplace.

Poor or missing safety management system components account for just about 98% of all workplace accidents. However, there are instances when system weaknesses are working and cannot be judged as the root cause for an accident:

  • the accident results when the employee makes an informed decision to intentionally violate a safety rule;
  • the accident is what is termed an "act of God" (lightning, etc.); or
  • the accident is the result of an illness/disease which is unknown by the employee and not observable by management.

OSHA Citations


When OSHA investigates accidents, they generally write citations addressing four general violation categories.

  • Inadequate supervision- The employer fails to adequately supervise employees.
  • Inadequate education/training- The employer fails to adequately train employees.
  • Inadequate accountability- The employer fails to enforce compliance with safety rules and policies.
  • Inadequate resources- The employer fails to provide adequate resources such as tools, equipment, facilities.

As borne out by OSHA fatality accident investigation reports, the vast majority of injuries occur in these four violation categories. Consequently, safety committees need to look at them as the "Big 4" system weaknesses and focus on them in safety inspections and accident analyses.

Effective safety management, which is an organizational skill, does not allow these system weaknesses to exist in the workplace. The employer has the ability to develop safety management systems that address the vast majority of hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices in the workplace. I believe there is always a way to fix the system to reduce hazards and exposures to an acceptable level.

Hazardous Conditions

A hazardous condition may be thought of as a "state of being" that exists. All workplaces contain hazardous conditions in any one or more of the five categories below. It is easy to remember the categories by using the "MEEPS" acronym:

  1. Materials- Raw materials such as chemicals, wood, metals, fibers, and plastics may present hazards.
  2. Equipment- Tools, portable equipment, stationary machinery...anything that moves is hazardous.
  3. Environments- Physical - Atmospheres, noise, temperature, ergonomics. Psychosocial - inadequate time, unreasonable schedules, unobtainable goals, other employees can create a high level of anxiety, distress leading to illness.
  4. People- Lack of training, inadequate physical/mental ability, distraction, misuse of drugs, etc. can all create "walking hazardous conditions."
  5. System- Safety management systems in which programs, policies, plans, processes, and procedures are either missing or inadequate."

Unsafe Behaviors

Simply put, unsafe behaviors are what we do or don't do that result in an injury or illness. These include work procedures that increase the likelihood of an injury. Most unsafe behaviors may occur at any level in the organization when we neglect safety responsibilities or take shortcuts to accomplish a task. When managers fail to train, supervise, hold their employees accountable, or set the proper example, they exhibit unsafe behaviors. The longer an employee is exposed to a hazard, the more likely he or she will trivialize its danger and take the "efficient" shortcut to get the work done faster.

Blast from the Past - Here's another little sermon I gave while working for Oregon OSHA. The message: Why do we do what we do?


Unsafe Behaviors (Continued)

Unsafe employee behaviors- All employees make choices about safety every day. They may choose to work safely, or they may choose to ignore safety issues. Employees do what they do in the workplace as a result of the consequences they think will occur. Employee actions depend in large measure on the nature of the safety culture they work within. For instance, if your company has large machinery or equipment, you probably have a lockout/tagout program that requires workers to follow specific procedures to make sure machinery does not startup unexpectedly while being repaired. An unsafe work practice would occur when a worker bypasses those procedures, or uses tags when locks are required.

In a worst-case scenario, employees may work within a culture that actually encourages unsafe behaviors. On the other hand, they may work within a safety culture that expects and insists on high standards of safety behavior. It's a matter of culture (leadership) and safety system design (management).

Inappropriate manager behaviors- Safety is too important for managers to merely "encourage". Managers must display and insist on behaviors that produce safe conditions. Failure to do so is a management-level unsafe behavior that may produce hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors at all various levels in the organization. As position and responsibility increase, so does the impact of unsafe management-level behaviors. Unsafe behaviors may occur when the following, management-level, hazardous conditions exist.

  • Managers unintentionally create hazards or exhibit unsafe behaviors. This is the most common reason management-level hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors exist. Inadequate education and training, unreasonable work loads or other pressures may prevent top management from formulating adequate safety systems, middle management from implementing them, and supervisors from overseeing the implementation on a daily basis.
  • Managers intentionally create hazards or exhibit unsafe behaviors. I want to think this never happens, but the truth does. However, it's probably quite rare. It usually takes the form of "ignoring" established safety policies and rules: a conscious choice by the supervisor or manager. A more serious situation arises when a supervisor or manager directs an employee to perform an action that creates a hazard or exposes the employee to an existing hazard without proper protection.

Safety Management Systems

All leaders get what they give and all managers get what they design.

Every company, large and small, formulates some sort of safety management system (OSHA calls it a "program") to ensure the workplace is safe and healthful. Safety management systems may be designed to maintain OSHA compliance, achieve higher profits, and/or protect valued employees.

No matter what the purpose, the resulting safety management system will be designed perfectly to produce precisely what it produces: It can do nothing but produce what it's designed to produce.

Since weaknesses in safety management system design result in hazards and behaviors that cause accidents, ultimately "fixing the system" is the most effective hazard control strategy in creating a safe and healthful workplace.

Identifying and controlling hazards in the workplace is ultimately most effectively accomplished when all system components are present and adequate. Typical Safety Management System components include:

  • Vision statement: Tells the world what the company would like to have accomplished in the future. A vision statement is based on an organization's strategic and organizational objectives.
  • Mission statement: Tells the world why the company exists. It's purpose. What it does.
  • Objectives: Intended outcomes that support the mission and vision.
  • Policies: General guidance formulated and implemented by managers at all levels.
  • Programs: Describe coordinated strategies that support policy.
  • Plans: Give clear written (formal) guidelines on how to implement programs and policies. Includes long-term strategies and short-term tactics.
  • Processes: Make sure safety is integrated into operational processes.
  • Procedures: Ensure concise formal/informal step-by-step instructions.
  • Budgets: Support investment in all of the above.
  • Rules: Clearly state specifications and performance standards.
  • Reports: Reflect process and measures results. Evaluates effectiveness of all the above.

No matter how well a particular safety management system is designed, the results will be flawed if the system is not implemented effectively. Ineffective implementation actually points to other system design flaws. If system design is flawed, it doesn't matter how effective implementation is...the result will not be what was intended.

Managers can "say things" and "do things" to make sure facilities under their control are safe and healthful. They express their expectations and requirements formally by establishing programs, written plans and processes which support the mission, vision, objectives, and policies. Budgets, reports, procedures, and rules support programs and written plans. Managers also express these expectations and requirements informally through their daily communications.

Two Important Tools to Identify Hazards

Your ability to identify hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices can be very effective if you are given the correct tools. We'll talk about two such tools below.

The Safety Inspection...An Effective Tool

The first important tool is rather obvious: It's the safety inspection or audit. Three important points should be remembered when conducting the safety inspection.

  • Know what you are doing. Only trained individuals should conduct safety inspections. They should be aware of the different types of hazards in the workplace. Unsafe materials, tools, equipment, work station design, noise, atmospheres, temperature extremes, and work practices should be evaluated. The inspector should know what to look for, and how to look for it. Get trained.
  • Allow enough time to conduct a thorough inspection. The more time you give to complete the safety inspection, the more likely you'll uncover that hazard waiting to injure someone. Actually, a short inspection conducted once a quarter by an untrained safety committee member or supervisor may not be worth the time spent to conduct it.
  • Use a checklist.

Safety Inspection Checklist

Advantages: Checklists, when properly constructed help you inspect for hazardous conditions and unsafe work procedures in a structured, systematic manner. If a checklist is not used, it's more likely that quality will suffer over time. Without a checklist, the conduct of the inspection will vary widely from person to person, depending on their expertise.

Disadvantages: Simply put, checklists take time to construct: time you may not have. But the long-term advantages far outweigh the short term effort. A second disadvantage is that using a checklist might cause the dreaded "tunnel vision" syndrome when an inspector overlooks a hazard in the workplace because it was not addressed in the checklist. The cure for this common disease is to merely place a "catch-all" question into the checklist that asks if there are any other hazards that need to be corrected.

The Job Hazard Analysis

The Job Hazard Analysis or "JHA" is a less used procedure to identify and control hazards in the workplace, but it is considered far more effective in reducing injuries and illnesses. The JHA procedures go something like this:

  1. The supervisor and employee get together and talk about doing a JHA.
  2. The employee works through about five or more cycles of a task;
  3. The supervisor records what the employee does;
  4. The supervisor and employee break the job down into distinct steps;
  5. They analyze each step for hazardous conditions and practices;
  6. They think up ways to correct the hazards in each step;
  7. They devise ways to work safely in each step;
  8. They write an improved safe work procedure for the job.

The JHA is far more effective than the walk-around inspection because it systematically identifies hazardous work conditions and unsafe work practices. The safety inspector conducting a traditional safety inspection may not take the time necessary to watch every job being performed in the area he or she inspects. Consequently, many unsafe work procedures are not discovered. The Job Hazard Analysis does require the time necessary to uncover unsafe work practices and procedures.

The OSHA 300 Log

"What?" you may ask... is the OSHA 300 Log? What is it good for? In the USA, the OSHA 300 Log is probably one of the best statistical tools you have in analyzing hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices.

Take a look at each column of your company's OSHA 300 Log and ask Who, What, Where, When and How questions about each entry. Take the information you gain from this analysis to draw conclusions about where your greatest effort needs to be directed. For instance, most lost workday claims are due to strains and sprains. Your OSHA 300 Log may reflect this trend. At any rate, analyzing the OSHA 300 Log allows you to act on facts, not hunches.

OSHA 300 Log
(Click to enlarge)

Think about this too: When an OSHA compliance officer comes to inspect, he or she will always review your OSHA 300 Log. The Log will tell the OSHA compliance officer exactly where accidents are occurring and what kind of injuries and illnesses are happening. At that point the compliance officer knows where to put emphasis in the inspection. Make sure all hazards identified on the OSHA 300 Log are corrected! You can learn more about OSHA recordkeeping in Course 708.

Final Words

These safety committee success tools are tried and true winners that, when used effectively, result in great benefits to the safety committee and the employer. Do some planning and implement some of these ideas. Make sure you not only do the right thing...but do the right thing right, so that your results are those the committee intended. Well, you guessed it... time for the quiz.


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. Which of the following is an unsafe behavior?

2. Which of the following is a hazardous condition?

3. Ultimately, what is the greatest cause of all workplace injuries and illnesses?

4. Why is the JHA considered superior to the safety inspection in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses?

5. The OSHA 300 Log is a valuable analysis tool that helps uncover all of the following, EXCEPT:

Have a great day!

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