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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.

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Note: Videos and exercises in our courses are for information only and not required to view. Final exam questions will not be derived from the videos. OSHAcademy is not responsible for video content.

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

a. a waste of money most of the time
b. never finished
c. only successful with enforcement
d. the safety committee's responsibility

Identifying the Hazards

What is the hazard here?

It's important that workers and supervisors are knowledgeable to ensure that workplace hazards are identified and eliminated as soon as possible. You've got to know what you're looking for. Examples of the various kinds of hazards include:

  • Hazardous materials including raw materials (wood, metal, plastic) that are manufactured into finished goods and toxic chemicals (solvents, acids, bases, detergents) used at various stages of the process.
  • 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 and the list could be much longer. When inspecting the workplace, look for hazardous conditions and situations such as unsafe behaviors that could cause exposure. Remember, it take both a hazard and exposure to the hazard before an accident can occur.

Hazard + ExposurePossible Accident

2. Before an accident can occur, what two conditions must be met?

a. A hazard and exposure to the hazard
b. A hazard and a behavior
c. Bad timing and a situation
d. Exposure and unsafe behavior

What is a Hazard?

foreseeable hazards

You bet there is. Slip, trips, and falls; heat/cold stress; and strains/sprains just to name a few.

Before we learn how to identify, analyze, and control hazards in the workplace, it's important to know how OSHA defines a hazard. In OSHA's Field Compliance Manual, a hazard is defined as:

"a workplace condition or practice to which employees are exposed, creating the potential for death or serious physical harm to employees. "

The hazard is defined in terms of the presence of hazardous conditions or practices that present a particular danger to employees. Hazards by this definition may include any of the following:

  1. Materials(wood, metal, chemicals, etc.),
  2. Equipment (tools, vehicles, machinery, etc.
  3. Environment (heat/cold, workload, psychosocial, etc.),
  4. People (unsafe behaviors, procedures, distraction, etc.),

OSHA's definition also implies that root-cause safety management system conditions and practices may also come under scrutiny by OSHA. The definition applies to hazards and practices that can, "create the potential for serious physical harm to employees. Root-cause conditions and practices within the safety management system (SMS) can certainly create the potential for serious harm to employees.

  • Root-cause conditions describe the adequacy of the design of the safety management system (SMS). For instance, a safety inspection program that only involves the safety committee would be considered a SMS design flaw.
  • Root-cause practices describe the adequacy of the performance of the SMS. For instance, a well-designed safety inspection program may not be carried out as required. Thus, SMS performance is flawed.

To be effective, the SMS must be not only be well-designed, it must perform well. As you will see throughout our training, a truly world-class SMS is a real challenge, especially when employer leadership doesn't support it.

Look Around

If you look around your workplace, you'll most likely 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.

3. Which of the following most closely summarizes OSHA's definition of a hazard?

a. People, places, or things
b. Anything that could injure
c. A danger which threatens harm
d. A condition or practice

Employer's Obligation

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

OSHA's General Duty Clause requires that:

"Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

This section also states:

"The employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act."

The following are examples of some types of hazardous exposures that employers have an obligation to prevent according to the General Duty Clause and various OSHA standards:

  • Employees are working at the unguarded edge of an open-sided floor 30 feet above the ground in apparent violation of 1926.501(b)(1). The regulation requires that the edge of the open-sided floor be guarded by standard guardrail systems. The type of hazard the employer must prevent is a fall from the edge of the floor to the ground below.
  • Employees are working in an area in which debris is located in apparent violation of 1915.91(b). The type of hazard the employer must prevent is employees tripping on debris.
  • An 8-hour time-weighted average sample reveals regular, ongoing employee overexposure to methylene chloride at 100 ppm in apparent violation of 1910.1052. The type of hazard the employer must prevent is exposure to methylene chloride above the PEL mandated by the standard (25 ppm).

4. According to the General Duty Clause, employers must furnish employment and a workplace free from hazards that are causing or are likely to cause _____.

a. a debilitating injury
b. death or serious physical harm
c. an injury or illness
d. a debilitating injury

"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.

5. Each of the following is a criterion considered by OSHA to establish a hazard as "recognized" EXCEPT _____.

a. Industry recognition
b. Employer recognition
c. Obvious recognition
d. Common sense recognition

"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.

6. During which phase of an accident investigation should the question of "foreseeability" be addressed by safety managers?

a. Root cause phase
b. Surface cause phase
c. Recommendation phase
d. Initial analysis phase

What is "Exposure"?

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 kinds of exposure that we'll discuss here: physical, environmental, and potential exposure:


The overhead guard which is the frame around the cab of the forklift. It prevents large objects from falling onto the driver.

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.

Physical exposure also occurs by inhalation, ingestion, and absorption primarily through skin contact. Skin exposure may result in dermatitis or skin rash, edema or swelling, and blistering. These exposures can result from chemical splashes and spills, from directly immersing one's hands into solvents and chemicals, from contact with solvent-soaked clothing or solvent-wet objects, and from the use of improper personal protective equipment. Solvents can dissolve the body's natural protective barrier of fats and oils leaving the skin unprotected against further irritation.

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.

7. Which kind of exposure is sometimes referred to as "arm's length" exposure?

a. Psychological exposure
b. Potential exposure
c. Environmental exposure
d. Physical exposure

Check your Work

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