Employers have a responsibility to protect workers against health and safety hazards at work. Workers have the right to know about potential hazards and to refuse work that they believe is dangerous. Workers also have a responsibility to work safely with hazardous materials.
Health and safety hazards exist in every workplace. Some are easily identified and corrected, while others create extremely dangerous situations that could be a threat to your life or long-term health. The best way to protect yourself is to learn to recognize and prevent hazards in your workplace.
There are four main types of workplace hazards:
Physical hazards are the most common hazards and are present in most workplaces at some time. Examples include: frayed electrical cords, unguarded machinery, exposed moving parts, constant loud noise, vibrations, working from ladders, scaffolding or heights, spills, tripping hazards.
Ergonomic hazards occur when the type of work you do, your body position and/or your working conditions put a strain on your body. They are difficult to identify because you don’t immediately recognize the harm they are doing to your health. Examples include: poor lighting, improperly adjusted workstations and chairs, frequent lifting, repetitive or awkward movements.
Chemical hazards are present when you are exposed to any chemical preparation (solid, liquid or gas) in the workplace. Examples include: cleaning products and solvents, vapours and fumes, carbon monoxide or other gases, gasoline or other flammable materials.
Biological hazards come from working with people, animals or infectious plant material. Examples include: blood or other bodily fluids, bacteria and viruses, insect bites, animal and bird droppings.
How Do I Identify Workplace Hazards?
Good hazard scenarios describe:
- Where it is happening (environment),
- Who or what it is happening to (exposure),
- What precipitates the hazard (trigger),
- The outcome that would occur should it happen (consequence)
- Any other contributing factors.
To perform a job hazard analysis, the following questions have to be asked
What can go wrong? The worker’s hand could come into contact with a rotating object that “catches” it and pulls it into the machine.
What are the consequences? The worker could receive a severe injury and lose fingers and hands.
How could it happen? The accident could happen as a result of the worker trying to clear a snag during operations or as part of a maintenance activity while the pulley is operating. Obviously, this hazard scenario could not occur if the pulley is not rotating.
What are other contributing factors? This hazard occurs very quickly. It does not give the worker much opportunity to recover or prevent it once his hand comes into contact with the pulley. This is an important factor, because it helps you determine the severity and likelihood of an accident when selecting appropriate hazard controls.
How likely is it that the hazard will occur? This determination requires some judgment. If there have been “near-misses” or actual cases, then the likelihood of a recurrence would be considered high. If the pulley is exposed and easily accessible, that also is a consideration. In the example, the likelihood that the hazard will occur is high because there is no guard preventing contact, and the operation is performed while the machine is running. By following the steps in this example, you can organize your hazard analysis activities.
BE SMART: HUNT FOR HAZARDS BEFORE THEY COME HAUNTING YOU