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

Basic Concepts


See it Again for the First Time. (10:31)

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:

  1. carefully plan and design interrelated processes and procedures
  2. implement and carefully watch the system perform
  3. revise and improve preventive measures and controls as your worksite changes and as your store of hazard information grows.

If you are going to be effective in protecting employees from workplace hazards, obviously you must first understand just what those hazards are.

Identifying the Hazards

What is the hazard here?
  • Many workplaces 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.
  • 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 aisles 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. Remember, it take both a hazard and exposure to the hazard before an accident will occur.

Hazard + Exposure = Possible Accident

What is a Hazard?

foreseeable hazards
Is there a potential for physical harm here?

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.

Look Around

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.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the that lists 10 "hotspot" hazards in the workplace.

Employer's Obligation

foreseeable hazards
Employers must remove hazards using feasible and effective means.

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:

  • Employees doing sanding operations may be exposed to the hazard of fire caused by sparking in the presence of magnesium dust. One of the methods to abate (eliminate or reduce) may be training and supervision. The "hazard" is the exposure to the potential of a fire; it is not the lack of training and supervision that represents the safety management system failures (root causes) contributing to the hazard.
  • In a hazardous situation involving high pressure gas where the employer has failed to train employees properly, has not installed the proper high pressure equipment, and has improperly installed the equipment that is in place, there are three abatement measures which the employer failed to take. There is only one hazard: exposure to the hazard of explosion due to the presence of high pressure gas.

"Recognized" Hazards

Safety Memos - Top 10 Blind Spots (2:53)

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.

  • 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

foreseeable hazards
Most hazards are foreseeable.

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.

What is "Exposure"?

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:

What protects this employee from physical exposure to falling boxes?

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:

  • When a hazard has existed and could recur because of work patterns, circumstances, or anticipated work requirements and it is reasonably predictable that employee exposure could occur.
  • When a hazard would pose a danger to employees simply by employee presence in the area and it is reasonably predictable that an employee could come into the area during the course of the work, to rest or to eat at the jobsite, or to enter or to exit from the assigned workplace.
  • When a hazard is associated with the use of unsafe machinery or equipment or arises from the presence of hazardous materials and it is reasonably predictable that an employee could use the equipment or be exposed to the hazardous materials in the course of work.


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. Your company's Hazard Identification and Control Program is _____.

2. Hazards in the workplace must be _____ as soon as possible.

3. According to the text, both a _____ and _____ are required before an accident can occur.

4. Which of the following criteria is NOT used by OSHA to demonstrate that a hazard is or should have been "recognized" by the employer?

5. The "common sense" criteria to argue that a hazard should have been recognized by an employer will be used ______.

6. The question of foreseeability should be addressed by safety managers during the ______ phase of an accident investigation.

7. Exposure is generally defined as a/an ______ or ______.

8. According to the text, an employee removing a guard and working around moving parts is an example of ___________ exposure.

9. According to the text, an employee working in a room full of open containers of solvents giving off harmful vapors is an example of _____ exposure.

10. A/An _____ exposure exists when a hazard would pose a danger to employees simply by employee presence in the area and it is reasonably predictable that an employee could come into the area.

Have a great day!

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