Accident Investigation

Resources - Accident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis

Hazard Identification and Control Basics

Before we study identifying, investigating and controlling hazards in the workplace, it's important to know how OSHA defines the term. A hazard is:

A hazardous condition or unsafe practice that could cause injury or illness to an employee.

Look around...what do you see?

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? Well, that's what I'm going to show you in this module!

The Four 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 conditions that, according to SAIF Corporation (Oregon), a major workers compensation insurer, account for only 3% of all workplace accidents. The fourth category describes behaviors in the workplace which may be contribute up to 95% of all workplace accidents. All four categories represent the symptoms pointing to underlying safety management system weaknesses. They also represent the surface causes of accidents once they occur. See more below on surface causes.

To remember the four hazard areas, just remember the acronym, MEEP, for Materials, Equipment, Environment, and People. Let's review these four categories.

  1. 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. 2. 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 accident can easily occur if tools are not used correctly. Tools that are used while broken are also very dangerous.
  3. 3. 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.
  4. 4. People. This area includes two main areas: (1) Unsafe employee behaviors such as taking short cuts, not using personal protective equipment, etc., and (2) Unsafe management behaviors, actions, activities such as ignoring safety rules, failing to train, or not writing adequate safety plans.
    • Workers who take unsafe short cuts, or who are using established procedures that are unsafe, are accidents waiting to happen.
    • Managers may unintentionally promote unsafe behaviors by establishing programs, policies, plans, processes and procedures that fail to prevent unsafe behaviors and/or hazardous conditions. These safety management system components may also be thought of as management controls, and ultimately represent the "root causes" of 98% of all workplace accidents.

    OSHA has developed OSHA Hazard Awareness Advisor, an excellent software program to assist in identifying hazards in your workplace. Check it out.

    Two strategies

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

    • Most companies conduct quarterly safety committee inspections in compliance with OSHA rule requirements. But, is that good enough? Safety committee inspections may be effective, but only if the safety committee is properly educated and trained in hazard identification and control concepts and principles specific to your company. In high hazard industries which see change on a daily basis, it take more to keep the workplace 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 judgement 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.

    Inspection checklists...write'm and use'm!

    Use the following steps if you are asked to write questions for a safety inspection.
    1. Determine the area to be inspected.
    2. Ask workers in the area what tasks/jobs they do.
    3. Call OSHA and ask one of their representatives to help you determine which rules apply to your workplace.
    4. Ask them to send you a copy of applicable rules.
    5. When you receive the rules (don't panic) read through the applicable sections and mark those rules that you feel might result in serious injury if violated.
    6. Change each marked rule into a simple question. Questions will start with the words: Do, does, is, are.
    7. Construct your checklist using the questions you have developed.
    8. Show your boss. He or she will be surprised! (You will probably become a safety director!)

    What's the major weakness of the safety inspection?

    By it's very nature, the walkaround inspection is ineffective in uncovering unsafe work practices because most inspectors do not take enough time to effectively analyze individual task procedures. Usually the inspectors walk into an area, look up...look down...look all around...possibly ask a few questions, and move on to the next area. Consequently, the safety inspection is effective in uncovering approximately 3% of the causes for workplace accidents. Isn't it possible to inspect a workplace on a Monday, and then experience a fatality on Tuesday as a result of an unsafe work practice which was not uncovered the day before?

    So, what's the solution?

    A walkaround inspection of this jobsite was completed just 30 minutes prior to this picture being taken. Did it catch this unsafe practice? This illustrates the major weakness of the inspection process. The Job Hazard Analysis can be the answer to this weakness. It uncovers unsafe work procedures as well as hazardous conditions because sufficient time is given to the analysis of one unique task. A joint supervisor/employee JHA uses the following steps:

    • While the employee accomplishes several cycles of the task, the supervisor observes.
    • The task is divided into a number of unique steps which are listed sequentially.
    • Each step is analyzed to see if hazardous materials, equipment, tools, or other hazards are involved.
    • Each step is then analyzed to determine safe work procedures that will eliminate or at least reduce any hazards present. This might include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), using new or redesigned equipment, or changing the procedure itself.
    • A written safe work procedure is developed for the entire task.

    Dig up the roots!

    When investigating hazards discovered in a walkaround 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 right.

    The flower represents the injury which is caused 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 ultimate 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.

    The missing guardrail

    You are conducting a walkaround safety inspection when you notice the guardrail along an elevated platform area is missing. As you now understand, the missing guardrail represents a hazardous condition and would be considered a surface cause if an accident occurred. But it also represents a symptom of a deeper problem...a root cause...a system weakness: What might that be?

    To make sure the guardrail gets replaced, and remains in place, you must always consider and correct the system weaknesses that allowed the hazardous condition in the first place.

    Source: OSHAcademy

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).