The goal of the hazard identification and control program is to make the workplace and its operations as safe as possible and to keep employees from being harmed. It is an ongoing program that is actually never finished. If you are involved in developing a system to identify and control hazards:
If you are going to be effective in protecting employees from workplace hazards, obviously you must first understand just what those hazards are.
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. Remember, it take both a hazard and exposure to the hazard before an accident will occur.
Before we study identifying, analyzing and controlling hazards in the workplace, it's important to know how OSHA defines the term. 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 conditions or practices (dangers) that could cause injuries or illnesses (harm) to employees."
A hazard may be an object (tools, equipment, machinery, materials) or a person (when distracted, mentally/physically incapable). It's important to know that a hazard is only one part in the "accident formula" above. It takes a hazard and exposure before an accident can occur.
I'll bet if you look around your workplace, you'll 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 could announce his or her presence at your corporate front door to begin a comprehensive inspection. What would they find? What do they look for? Now, if you used the same inspection strategy as an inspector, wouldn't that be smart? Let's take a look at some information contained in OSHA's Field Compliance Manual, Chapter 3, relating to hazards and exposure.
OSHA standards require an employer to render the workplace free of certain hazards by any feasible and effective means which the employer wishes to utilize. Hazards describe the surface causes (conditions) for accidents in the workplace. For example:
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.
Another important question to ask about the nature of a hazard relates to whether it was "foreseeable." The question of foreseeability should be addressed by safety managers during the root cause analysis phase of an accident investigation. 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. For example:
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 the 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.
Well, I'm sure you thought the information above on hazards interesting ;-) Now, lets' talk about the concept of "exposure": the second variable in the accident formula. Exposure is generally defined as "the condition of being exposed," or as "a position in relation to a hazard." In this course we will consider three forms of exposure that we'll discuss here: physical, environmental and potential exposure:
Physical Exposure: We may think of this form of exposure as "arm's length" exposure. If any part of the body can be injured as a result of proximity to a danger zone, physical exposure exists. For instance, if an employee removes a guard and works around moving parts that could cause an injury, that employee is exposed.
Environmental Exposure: An employee may suffer from environmental exposure no matter how far away from the source of the hazard he or she might be. For instance, if an employee uses a loud saw all day, everyone working around the saw may be exposed to hazardous levels of noise and suffer from environmental exposure.
Potential Exposure: The possibility that an employee could be exposed to a hazardous condition exists when the employee can be shown to have access to the hazard. Potential employee exposure could include one or more of the following:
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