Article By: Christian Goudge, AWARE-NS Safety Collaborator
Effective hazard identification is a critical and significant foundational activity in a successful OHS program. We need to do it because OHS law says so but we really need to do it to protect the most important thing we have at work: our well-being. There are two ways to find hazards in the workplace: proactively seeking them out or waiting until they find us by causing an accident. All too often hazards are discovered as a result of someone getting hurt. In an effort to reduce workplace accidents and injury a recurring, proactive approach to identify hazards must be used. Monthly workplace inspections are an effective way to identify and control hazards and the safety committee plays a key role in this important activity.
Hazards found in the workplace generally fit into the following four categories:
- Chemical hazards such as solvents, cleaning solutions and certain paints
- Physical hazards such as heat, noise, gravity; this is typically the most common hazard found
- Ergonomic hazards such as poor lifting techniques, poor work station set up and repetitive and strenuous tasks. Ergonomic hazards are the leading cause of injury in Healthcare in Nova Scotia
- Biological hazards are very common in Healthcare and include blood borne pathogens and bacteria and viruses
Once the hazards are identified they must be controlled. The level of control must be proportionate to the level of risk and must be sensible. For example if poor patient lift and transfer techniques are identified as an ergonomic hazard eliminating, the patient, although effective, would not be a sensible control method. There are four categories of controls used to mitigate hazards identified in your inspection.
In order of effectiveness they are:
- Elimination/Substitution such as removing the hazard completely or replacing it with something less harmful
- Engineering controls such as process redesign, mechanical ventilation and physical barriers
- Administrative controls such as rules, policies and warning signs
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses and N95 masks
This list of controls is known as the hierarchy of controls and should be used in the order above. Elimination or substitution of the hazard is the most effective method of control because it removes the hazard completely. When elimination of the hazard is not possible the goal is to interrupt the path between the hazard and the worker to prevent harm. All of the other control methods are designed to minimize the potential harm a hazard may cause however the hazard still exists. Personal protective equipment is the least effective method of control and must always be used in partnership with other control methods.
Regular hazard identification and control is not only and effective method of protecting everyone at the workplace but demonstrates due diligences and promotes participation in the internal responsibility system by involving Safety Committee members, managers and employees in creating a safe workplace.
NEXT: Part II of Hazard Identification and Control where I will share some tips and tools on conducting effective workplace safety inspections.