The first step in controlling workplace hazards is to first identify them. We want to determine what hazards are present. Once hazards are identified, you'll conduct an analysis to examine more closely the nature of the hazard. You want to know what it looks like, what kind of accidents might it cause, and how severe the resulting injuries might be. Analysis requires that each item or component be examined to see how it relates to or influences the whole.
Safety inspections should do more than simply identify hazardous conditions. They should provide useful data for the purpose of effective analysis and evaluation of the safety management system.
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As we'll learn, observing work each day is extremely important in identifying hazards. Surveys take advantage of employee awareness of the presence of workplace hazards. Interviews are valuable in uncovering hazardous conditions, unsafe work practices, and their root causes. Walk-around inspections are useful to locate hazardous conditions and, to a lesser degree, unsafe work practices in the workplace. Reviewing documentation such as the OSHA 300 Log, safety committee minutes and accident reports also helps to determine workplace hazards. Now, let's take a look at each of these five methods or "tools" to identify hazards.
Observation is important because it can be a great tool to effectively identify behaviors that account for 95 percent of all workplace injuries. The walkaround inspection, as a method for identifying hazards, may not be as effective as observation in identifying unsafe behaviors.
Informal observation. An informal observation process is nothing more than being watchful for hazards and unsafe behaviors throughout the work shift. No special procedure is involved. All employees should be expected to look over their work areas once in a while.
Formal observation program. One of the most effective proactive methods to collect useful data about the hazards and unsafe behaviors in your workplace is the formal observation program because it includes a written plan and procedures.
For example, safety committee members or other employees may be assigned to complete a minimum number of observations of safe/unsafe behaviors during a given period of time.
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Note: An important policy for successful formal observation procedures is that they are not, in any way, linked to discipline. Observers should not discipline or "snitch" on employees. Discipline should never be a consequence of an observation. To do so ensures any observation program will fail as an accurate fact-finding tool. Follow these best practices:
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Comprehensive surveys are not the same as interviews or inspections. An interview is a verbal exchange conducted one-on-one, preferably in private, and has the potential to gather more information. An inspection is often done by employees at the workplace who walk around observing the workplace and asking questions in public.
Comprehensive surveys ideally should be performed by people who can bring to your worksite fresh vision and extensive knowledge of safety, health, or industrial hygiene. Because there are few professional consultants equipped to do comprehensive surveys in all three areas, the best approach is to use a team consisting of outside specialists: a safety professional and an industrial hygienist.
We encourage you to take advantage of OSHA's safety and health consultative services if available in your state. Just call your local OSHA field office and schedule a visit. Workers' compensation insurance providers and other insurance companies offer expert services to help their clients evaluate safety and health hazards. Private consultants may also provide excellent specialized services to help determine workplace hazards.
For an industrial hygiene survey you should, at a minimum, inventory all chemicals and hazardous materials in the plant, review your hazard communication program, and analyze air samples. For many industries, a survey of noise levels and a review of the respirator program also will be vital. Companies participating in OSHA's SHARP and VPP must conduct initial comprehensive surveys.
Interviews differ from surveys. Whereas surveys ask many people the same questions, an interview is a one-on-one process that asks unique questions. Outside experts may or may not conduct interviews during comprehensive surveys. If they do, that's great. If they don't, it becomes important for someone in-house conduct the interviews. A wealth of information, over and above what might be possible from a survey, may be obtained by conducting interviews with employees.
When conducting the interview keep the following tips in mind.
Inspections are the best understood and most frequently used tool to assess the workplace for hazards. Much has been written about them, and many inspection checklists are available in various OSHA publications. The term "inspection" means a general walk-around examination of every part of the worksite to locate conditions that do not comply with safety standards. This includes routine industrial hygiene monitoring and sampling.Inspection Frequency
The regular site inspection should be done at specified intervals. The employer should inspect as often as the type of operation or character of equipment requires. Think about the most hazardous operation or location in your company. How often are safety inspections conducted there?
OSHA expects all places of employment to be inspected by a qualified person or persons as often as the type of operation or the character of the equipment requires. Defective equipment or unsafe conditions found by these inspections should be replaced or repaired or remedied promptly.
The frequency of the safety inspection is really a judgment call for the employer, but at a minimum, medium and large fixed worksites should be inspected completely at least every quarter, with some part of the inspection occurring each month. The frequency of a safety inspection depends on the nature of the work and workplace. More frequent change and higher probability for serious injury or illness requires more frequent inspection. For construction sites, daily inspections are a must because of the rapidly changing nature of the site and its hazards.
At small fixed worksites, the entire site should be inspected at one time. And even for the smallest worksite, inspections should be done at least quarterly. If the small worksite uses hazardous materials or involves hazardous procedures or conditions that change frequently, inspections should be done more often.
Sound Safety Inspection Policy: All employees should inspect their area of responsibility at the beginning and end of each shift, and bridge the inspections with continual observation. If a hazardous condition is observed, eliminate it if you safely can, or report it immediately.
A consistently effective safety inspection will follow a procedure based on an inventory of hazards specific to the workplace. The inventory will include the hazard prevention actions and controls designed to reduce or eliminate worker exposure. Some important points to remember include:
From your reading earlier, you already know that the safety committee may be responsible for conducting regular safety inspections. But that is where it ends, and that should not be. Supervisors and other employees should be conducting safety inspections on a regular basis.
Everyone conducting safety inspections needs to be thoroughly trained on how to effectively conduct safety inspections and in the specific hazards in their workplaces. It doesn't do any good for employees, supervisors and safety committee members to be conducting safety inspections if they don't know what to look for.
Supervisors: Supervisors should be properly educated about their safety inspection responsibilities. They should have training in identifying and controlling the hazards that workers under their supervision are likely to encounter. Formal course work may not be necessary, but the training should be provided by the safety manager or other competent person.
When training supervisors, it's important to make sure they understand that it is their responsibility for safety in their departments. They "own" whatever happens in work areas for which they supervise. It's not the primary job of the safety manager or the safety committee to ensure safe work conditions and behaviors. Ultimately, safety is a line, not a staff, responsibility.
Employees: Employees should have training in the hazards that they may be exposed to during work. When they are responsible for workstation inspections, employees also should have specific training in how to inspect.
On-the-job training with the supervisor can be an excellent strategy to ensure adequate instruction on conducting inspections and training on how to detect and correct hazards to which they are exposed.
In all but the smallest and least dangerous of workplaces, written inspection reports are necessary to record hazards discovered, responsibility assigned for correction, and tracking of correction to completion. Formal safety inspections should include a written report with recommendations for corrective action.
A written record will help ensure:
Of course, having such written records will be most helpful if they are read by someone knowledgeable in the safety and health program. This person then can provide top managers with summaries of problems.
If you use experts from within your company, be on guard for "tunnel vision," which can lead to a failure to spot hazards in areas not directly related to your firm's primary function. You want your maintenance shop, for example, to be just as safe as your production line. OSHA frequently finds unguarded saws and grinders, non-code electrical wiring, and other basic safety hazards in areas that are outside the main production process but regularly used by employees.
Assessing the workplace would not be complete without thoroughly reviewing existing documents to determine what kinds of hazards have existed in the workplace prior to the assessment. Actually, document review may be considered both an assessment tool and an analysis tool. Not only are we able to determine the hazards that have caused accidents in the past, we can analyze to uncover trends in the types, locations, date/time, etc. for accidents.
You need to review these documents to assess workplace hazards:
All these activities to identify hazards in the workplace are so important to the overall effectiveness of your safety management system. Be sure you integrate these activities into the line positions...employees, supervisors and managers...safety is a line responsibility!