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Course 833 - Developing a Construction Safety Management System

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

Controlling Worksite Hazards


Develop, Deploy, Design Image

In this module, we'll take a look at how employees can get involved in proactive worksite hazard control to help eliminate hazards on the worksite (and future worksites).

Hazard Definition

Before we study identifying, investigating and controlling hazards in the workplace, it's important to know how OSHA defines the term. A hazard is any workplace condition or a person's "state of being" that could cause an injury or illness to an employee. By “state of being” we mean his psychological, emotional and physical state. Every worker must be fully aware and sober on the job.

Looking for Hazards

I'll bet if you look around your worksite, you'll be able to locate a number of hazardous conditions or unsafe work practices without too much trouble. Ask yourself, if I was an OSHA inspector conducting a surprise inspection of this worksite, what would I find? What does OSHA look for? Now, if you used the same inspection strategy as an OSHA inspector, wouldn't that be smart? Well, that's what I'm going to show you in this module!

The Five Workplace Hazard Categories

To help identify workplace hazards it's useful to categorize them into easy-to-remember categories. The first three categories represent hazardous physical conditions that, according to SAIF Corporation, account for only 3% of all workplace accidents. The fourth category describes behaviors in the workplace which may contribute up to 95% of all workplace accidents. The final category may contribute to both the hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors, and therefore, may be ultimately responsible for fully 98% of all accidents in the workplace.

  1. Materials: Hazardous materials include hazardous:

    • Liquid and solid chemicals such as acids, bases, solvents, explosives, etc. The hazard communication program is designed to communicate the hazards of chemicals to employees, and to make sure they use safe work practices when working with them.
    • Solids like metal, wood, plastics. Raw materials used to manufacture products are usually bought in large quantities, and can cause injuries or fatalities in many ways.
    • Gases like hydrogen sulfide, methane, etc. Gas may be extremely hazardous if leaked into the atmosphere. Employees should know the signs and symptoms related to hazardous gases in the workplace.
  2. Do you see any hazardous conditions in this image?
    Do you see any hazardous conditions in this image?
  3. Equipment: This area includes machinery and tools used to produce or process goods. These examples all represent hazardous conditions in the workplace. Hazardous equipment includes machinery and tools.

    Hazardous equipment should be properly guarded so that it's virtually impossible for a worker to be placed in a danger zone around moving parts that could cause injury or death. A preventive maintenance program should be in place to make sure equipment operates properly. A corrective maintenance program is needed to make sure equipment that is broken, causing a safety hazard, is fixed immediately.

    Tools need to be in good working order, properly repaired, and used for their intended purpose only. Any maintenance person will tell you that an accident can easily occur if tools are not used correctly. Tools that are used while broken are also very dangerous.

The Five Workplace Hazard Categories (Continued...)

  1. Environment: This area includes facility design, hazardous atmospheres, temperature, noise, factors that cause stress, etc. Are there areas in your workplace that are too hot, cold, dusty, dirty, messy, wet, etc. Is it too noisy, or are dangerous gases, vapors, liquids, fumes, etc., present? Do you see short people working at workstations designed for tall people? Such factors all contribute to an unsafe environment.
  2. People: This area includes unsafe employee behaviors at all levels in the organization such as taking short cuts, not using personal protective equipment, and otherwise ignoring safety rules.
  3. System: Every company has, do some degree, a CSMS. It's good to think of the "state" of the CSMS as a condition. For instance, management may develop and implement ineffective policies, procedures and safety rules. I consider a flawed CSMS as a systemic hazardous condition because it could increase the number accidents. If the condition of the CSMS is flawed, it may also result in manager and supervisor behaviors such as ignoring safe behaviors or by actually directing unsafe work practices that will contribute to accidents in the workplace. To remember the five hazard areas, just remember the acronym:

MEEPS = Materials, Equipment, Environment, People, and System.

Controlling Exposure - The Hierarchy of Controls

Image of Hierarchy of Controls in Construction
Click to Enlarge.

Controlling exposures to occupational hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers. ANSI/ASSP Z10-2012, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, encourages employers to use the following hierarchy of hazard controls:

Hazard Control Strategies

The first three areas attempt to control hazards and the bottom two strategy areas try to change exposure to hazards. Controlling hazards is always preferred to controlling behavior, and that's why these strategies are at the top of the hierarchy.

  1. Elimination - removes the source of the hazard. This strategy totally eliminates the hazard from the worksite.
  2. Substitution - reduces the hazard. This strategy should be used if it is not feasible to eliminate the hazard. The idea is to replace the hazard with a less hazardous substitute.
  3. Engineering controls - isolate the hazard through design. This strategy involves the design or redesign of tools, equipment, machinery and facilities so that hazardous chemicals are not needed or that exposure to those hazardous chemicals are not possible. Examples include enclosing work processes or installing local ventilation systems.

Exposure Control Strategies

These strategies attempt to control employee behaviors to eliminate or reduce exposure to existing health hazards when hazard controls are not adequate. Naturally it's more difficult to control behaviors than hazards because we're dealing with human behavior.

  1. Warnings - raise awareness through by using signs, alarms, signals, labels, placards, cones, and other methods. For example, a warning sign might be used to keep workers from entering a confined space.
  2. Administrative/work practice controls - eliminate/reduce exposure to hazards. This strategy helps to reduce exposure by developing and implementing effective training, policies, processes, procedures, practices and safety rules. This strategy really gets to the root causes by making recommendations to improve system weaknesses.
  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - eliminates/reduces exposure through personal barriers. This strategy is generally used in conjunction with the other strategies to reduce exposure. When effective elimination, substitution and engineering controls are not feasible appropriate PPE such as gloves, safety goggles, helmets, safety shoes, and protective clothing may be required. To be effective, PPE must be individually selected, properly fitted and periodically refitted; conscientiously and properly worn; regularly maintained; and replaced as necessary.

The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following the hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, ones where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.

Two Strategies

To identify and control hazards in the workplace, two basic strategies are used. First and most common is the walk-around inspection. Now, you probably have participated in a safety inspection, or at least have watched others conduct one.

  • Most companies conduct safety inspections in compliance with OSHA rule requirements. But, is that good enough? Safety inspections may be effective, but only if the people conducting the inspection are properly educated and trained in hazard identification and control concepts and principles specific to your company. In high hazard industries, which experience worksite change on a daily basis, it takes more than an occasional inspection to keep the project safe from hazards.
  • In world-class safety cultures supervisors, as well as all employees inspect their areas of responsibility as often as the hazards of the materials, equipment, tools, environment, and tasks demand. It's really a judgment call, but if safety is involved, it's better to inspect often.
  • Employees should inspect the materials, equipment, and tools they use, and their immediate workstation for hazardous conditions at the start of each workday. They should inspect equipment such as forklifts, trucks, and other vehicles before using them at the start of each shift. Again, it's better to inspect closely and often.
A walk-around inspection of this job site was completed just 30 minutes prior to this picture being taken. Did it catch this unsafe practice?
A walk-around inspection of this job site was completed just 30 minutes prior to this picture being taken. Did it catch this unsafe practice?

The Safety Inspection is Not the Answer

The picture to the right illustrates the major weakness of the inspection process. Although the walk-around safety inspection is good at discovering hazardous conditions, it’s not good at uncovering unsafe behaviors.

What’s the Solution?

The Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), on the other hand, can be the answer to this weakness. It uncovers unsafe work practices as well as hazardous conditions because sufficient time is given to close analysis of one unique task at a time.

Management Involvement

Involvement is one of the key principles in making sure your CSMS is effective (gets desired results). Management should involve employees/unions in all aspects of CSMS development so that they will gain a sense of buy-in or ownership in the system.

Employee involvement in the JHA process helps ensure they will use the safe job procedure developed by the JHA when not being directly supervised. Employees want to work efficiently, and that means they're more likely to use procedures they believe will get the job done most efficiently. If they're not involved in developing safe job procedures, they're more likely to see their own (possibly less safe) procedures as more efficient. When employees are directly involved, supervisors can be a little more sure their employees are using safe job procedures because employees are more likely to consider the procedures as their own.

Accident weed
Analyze to uncover the root causes.

Dig up the Roots!

When investigating hazards discovered in a walk-around inspection or JHA, it's important that you uncover the root causes that have allowed those hazards to exist in the workplace. Taking this approach to hazard investigation is called root cause analysis.

Check out the well-known "accident weed" to the left. The flower represents the injury. It's the result of the transfer of an excessive amount of energy from an outside source to the body. This is called the direct cause of the accident.

The leaves of the weed represent hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices in the workplace. Conditions and/or practices are typically called the surface or indirect causes of an accident.

The roots of the weed represent management's effort to maintain a safe and healthful workplace, safety policies, safety supervision, safety training, and enforcement of safety rules. Think of these as management controls which pre-exist every hazardous condition, unsafe work practice, and accident. Inadequate or missing system components represent the root causes for accidents in the workplace. System weaknesses may include programs, policies, plans, processes and procedures (remember the "5 P's") in any or all of the seven element areas of the safety management system. Root causes may feed and actually promote or nurture hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices.

Research findings indicate hazardous conditions, alone, represent only about 3% of the causes for accidents in the workplace, while unsafe behaviors make up about 95% of the causes for accidents. Consequently, about 98% of all workplace accidents are ultimately caused by a combination of inadequate safety management system components, under the control of management, that result in hazardous conditions and/or unsafe work practices.

For a look at a more complete accident weed with explanation take course 702.



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. What may be a contributing factor in up to 95 percent of all workplace accidents?

2. Which cause category is ultimately responsible for most accidents in the workplace?

3. Which of the following is not one of the five areas within which all workplace hazards exist? (Hint: MEEPS)

4. Which method of controls is most effective at reducing hazards?

5. Which method of controls has also proven to be less effective than other measures, requiring significant effort by the affected workers?

Have a safe day!

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