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.

About The Author

Chris GoudgeChris Goudge is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional with over 10 years experience currently practicing occupational health and safety in the health care sector. Broad experience in developing, implementing and managing health and safety systems for mutli site, multi jurisdictional operations in manufacturing and health care with a focus on accident reduction, risk mitigation and development of a self sustaining safety culture.

Article By: Christian Goudge, AWARE-NS Safety Collaborator
In part one we discussed the types of hazards and the types of controls to eliminate or minimize the hazards. In part 2 we will discuss how to conduct effective workplace inspections consisting of identifying the hazard, suggesting corrective action, follow up and documentation.
Regular workplace inspections are required under section 28(2)(e,f,g,h) which outlines the need to conduct, report, follow up and maintain records of workplace inspections. Regular workplace inspections are a great way to prevent accidents and demonstrate an organization’s due diligence by proactively seeking out hazards before they cause harm. Inspections are also an excellent opportunity to engage the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) in a positive and very important function. Workplace inspections also provide an opportunity to further develop the internal responsibility system by engaging workers and managers in workplace inspections.
The process of conducting regular workplace inspections has many components; let’s take a look at each one:

What needs to be inspected?

It is important to consider the entire workplace when establishing what needs to be inspected. The main building is often the focus of most workplace inspections but it is important to inspect other areas as well. The outside grounds, parking lots and out buildings such as utility sheds or garages must also be inspected as these are great hiding areas for hazards.

When does the workplace need to be inspected?

The OHS Act tells us to regularly inspect the workplace; this is commonly interpreted to be monthly. The Act also tells us we must create a schedule for regular inspections. In some cases it may not be reasonably practical to inspect the entire workplace every month due to the size of the site. In these cases the workplace should be divided into ‘bite size’ sections and each section is scheduled to be inspected on a particular month. For example; if we take a large site and divide it into 6 or 12 pieces, each piece would be assigned a month on the schedule. It is important to mix up the scheduled months for each area as the hazards may change depending on the time of year. Maybe the parking lot is one of the areas to be inspected; this should scheduled to be done in a winter month and a summer month as the hazards found would be very different. Once we have allocated the months to each section of the workplace, we end up with a regular workplace inspection schedule that has the entire site inspected twice per year. The only part missing is who is going to conduct the inspection.

Who conducts the workplace inspection?

The OHS Act expects the JOHSC to participate in regular workplace inspections; the internal responsibility system encourages us to share the responsibility of safety with all workplace parties. So that sounds like the safety committee and everyone else should be involved in inspections. A great way to do this is to have each committee member pick the month and area they would like to inspect and commit their name to the schedule. Now the schedule has the area, the month and the person conducting the inspection established for the year. Post this on your safety board and review it every month at the JOHSC meeting. It is a good idea to have the committee member inspect a unit or area they do not normally work in. On the day of the inspection, the committee member should have someone that works in the unit or area accompany them on the inspection, or make arrangements in advance to have a manager participate!

What do I look for when conducting a workplace inspection?

The primary focus of a workplace inspection is to identify hazards that may cause harm to staff or property damage. Recalling the four types of hazards in part one: physical; chemical; ergonomic and biological, should help guide your inspection process. These hazards can be found in the environment itself and in the work occurring in the area. When you enter the area to be inspected, slow down; good inspections take time. Look around, up and down; there are hazards to be found everywhere. When looking around you should be asking yourself questions like: “what can hurt me here?”; “what could catch fire here?”; “what could I trip on here?”; “what incident reports have come from here?” and so on. It is always very helpful to talk to staff that work in the area, they usually know the hazards well. An important point to remember is if we identify a hazard during our inspection that we can fix right away ourselves, such as a broom lying across the stairs, then we need to do this!

How do we document the workplace inspection?

The method of recording the hazards can vary greatly; two of the most common ways are through the use of checklists or through an open form. Checklists are very helpful in guiding an inspection, especially for people with little experience in conducting workplace inspections. Checklists ensure a consistent approach to inspecting and makes for a fairly simple process. The disadvantage to checklist is that it can restrict the inspection to the items on the list and may not capture the hazards present if the list is not comprehensive. Open forms provided the flexibility to be used in all departments and they are non-restrictive although it does require a more experienced person to conduct the inspection. Using either method, a suggested corrective action must be included with each hazard identified and a reasonable due date to have the issue fixed. There are many inspection forms available and it is important to find the one that works for your organization. This is a great project for the JOHSC to take on!

What do we do with the completed form?

The work is only half done after identifying and recording the hazards discovered during the inspection; we now have to ensure these issues are resolved. The manager of the area is typically the responsible person and the one tasked to ensure the issues identified are fixed. A 30 day time frame to have hazards corrected is often provided and items not closed on the inspection by then should be moved to the JOSCH agenda and be captured in the meeting minutes. A copy of the inspection must go to the manager and the JOHSC and the results of the inspection should also be shared with the staff in the area. This is a great topic for your regular staff meetings!
With practice, inspections will become less arduous, more effective and will be a strong component to a successful OHS program.
For more information on Hazard Identification check out these resources:

  • The Aware-NS eCampus
  • Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety

  • About The Author

    Chris GoudgeChris Goudge is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional with over 10 years experience currently practicing occupational health and safety in the health care sector. Broad experience in developing, implementing and managing health and safety systems for multi site, multi jurisdictional operations in manufacturing and health care with a focus on accident reduction, risk mitigation and development of a self sustaining safety culture.