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).
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.
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!
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.
MEEPS = Materials, Equipment, Environment, People, and System.
Controlling exposures to occupational hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers. Traditionally, a hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective controls. One representation of this hierarchy is summarized below.
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. The risk of illness or injury should be substantially reduced.
Elimination and substitution, while most effective at reducing hazards, also tend to be the most difficult to implement in an existing process. If the process is still at the design or development stage, elimination and substitution of hazards may be inexpensive and simple to implement. For an existing process, major changes in equipment and procedures may be required to eliminate or substitute for a hazard.
Engineering controls are used to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection. The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or personal protective equipment, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.
Administrative controls and personal protective equipment are frequently used with existing processes where hazards are not particularly well controlled. Administrative controls and personal protective equipment programs may be relatively inexpensive to establish but, over the long term, can be very costly to sustain. These methods for protecting workers have also proven to be less effective than other measures, requiring significant effort by the affected workers.
Note: ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005 also includes "Warnings" as one of the strategies in the Hierarchy of Controls. However, I would classify this strategy as an administrative control because warnings are only as effective as the awareness of and compliance with the message. Warnings do not eliminate or reduce hazards.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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