9 tips on conducting a hazard assessment

Jun 18, 2012

9 tips on conducting a hazard assessmentYou’ve already conducted at least one assessment, right? A hazard is any practice, behaviour, substance, condition, or combination of these that can cause injury or illness to people, or damage to property. A hazard assessment involves identifying hazards and ranking the risks so that you can develop an action plan to eliminate or control them.

“It’s the foundation piece of a health and safety program,” says Jan Hill, a consultant with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS). “You can’t assess and control something if you don’t know it exists.”

Back to our opening question. “The problem,” continues Hill, “is an assessment is only a snapshot of that moment in time. To fully benefit from an assessment review and update it regularly. Workplaces are in constant flux — new equipment, new processes, new supervisors, new workers — so make your assessment a living document that will help protect your workers and your operations on an ongoing basis.”

Appearing below are nine practical tips on conducting or updating a hazard assessment, with commentary from Jan Hill.

Conducting or Updating a Hazard Assessment


Don’t confuse monthly inspections with hazard assessments
“They’re not the same thing,” says Hill. “Inspections presume that you already know what the hazards are. If you haven’t already done an assessment, your inspections won’t be very robust. In many workplaces, I’ve seen people run around ticking things off a checklist. That’s not an assessment..” (For inspection tips, see “How WSPS can help,” below.)


Form an assessment team
While the employer is legally responsible for conducting the hazard assessment, Jan Hill recommends a team approach. “In an ideal world, the assessment would be done by those closest to production, with the assistance of other people, such as managers, who are required by law to know what the hazards are.”


Include a fresh pair of eyes on the team
Could be a manager, a company health and safety professional, or an outside consultant. “Even if people have been on the job only a short time, they habituate themselves to hazards. They no longer see them as a problem, but I can see hazards that they no longer see.”


Determine an approach
For example, divide your workplace into major work areas or steps in the work flow. If you’ve already conducted an assessment, you may wish to follow the same approach or try a different one. Include all areas of the workplace, such as:

  • customer service
  • offices
  • processing
  • receiving
  • storage
  • areas outside of the workplace (driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, walkways, etc.)


Prep for the assessment
Collect and review existing information. Sources include:

  • results of previous workplace assessments and inspections
  • worker hazard reports
  • recommendations made by the joint health and safety committee
  • maintenance reports
  • results of any workplace testing (e.g., air sampling)
  • injury, illness and incident investigation reports
  • inspection reports and orders from the Ministry of Labour
  • hazardous materials inventories and material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
  • inventories of on-site machinery and equipment, plus related information from manufacturers or suppliers


Keep your mind open, and avoid making assumptions beforehand
Don’t assume any task, procedure or process is safe just because no one has been injured yet. To refresh your sense of what could go wrong, review “Sample hazards to watch out for,” below.


Conduct the assessment
Advise supervisors and workers beforehand. Be thorough. Take into account both safety and health hazards. Ask workers about hazards and how they may be controlled. “To identify hazards when I’m onsite,” says Hill, “I’ll ask a worker to show me how the process or equipment works. Then I’ll ask questions in plain language that really bring the issues home. ‘What’s happened in the past? What could potentially happen? If someone wasn’t trained, what could go wrong?’ “To assess the hazards, I’ll ask workers to answer, ‘What could hurt me, how often am I doing it, and how bad could I be hurt?’ Questions like these give everyone participating in the assessment a better picture of what goes on, where the greatest risks may be, and how to control them.”


Gauge whether existing controls are adequate
In order of preference, options include:

  • elimination/substitution — removing the hazard from the workplace
  • engineering — reducing the exposure through design or modification of the facility, equipment, ventilation systems, and processes
  • administrative — altering the way the work is done, including timing of work, policies and other rules, and work practices such as standards and operating procedures (including training, housekeeping, and equipment maintenance, and personal hygiene practices)
  • personal protective equipment — worn by individuals to reduce exposure; for example, to chemicals or noise

Determine what controls are required by law and by company rules. This may require consulting with an expert, such as an industrial hygienist, ergonomist or machine safety specialist.


Follow up on your assessment findings

  • Share results of the assessment with affected workers, supervisors and managers. Everybody is required to know about the hazards, and understand that they have their own hazard responsibilities.
  • Develop, share and implement an action plan for controlling the hazards.
  • Train workers on new controls.
  • Review your progress with the action plan, and reassess regularly. “You have to stay on top of your action plans,” says Hill. “It’s part of building commitment at all levels.”

Sample hazards to watch out — “Do you see what I see? Yes… tell me what you see.”  

When identifying safety hazards, consider

  • material handling hazards (e.g., lifting, carrying, lowering, pushing, and pulling). Mechanical material handling devices such as lift trucks, conveyors, cranes, and handcarts can also introduce hazards, such as contact with moving equipment or parts, loads, or electricity. So too handling of hazardous materials, such as corrosives, flammables and reactives.
  • machine hazards (e.g., rotating shafts, belts or pulleys • presses, blades and saws • flying projectiles
  • energy hazards, causing the sudden movement of machine components, electrical shock or other releases of energy. Sources include electricity, steam, heat, pneumatic or hydraulic pressure and gravity, as well as mechanical and chemical energy
  • work practice hazards, such as failing to have or follow safe work practices
  • confined space hazards, where hazardous gases, vapours, dusts or fumes may build up, or where an oxygen-deficient atmosphere may be created. Examples include storage tanks, vaults, pits, vats, silos, pipelines, ducts and tunnels. Other hazards include difficult entry and exit, working in awkward spaces, poor walking surfaces, poor visibility, and extremes of temperature and noise.

When identifying health hazards, consider

  • physical hazards (e.g., noise, vibration, temperature extremes, and radiation)
  • chemical hazards (solids, liquids, vapours, gases, dusts, fumes or mists that can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed into the body)
  • biological hazards (living things or substances produced by living things that can cause illness; they enter the body by inhalation, ingestion or absorption)
  • ergonomic or work design hazards, arising from the design and organization of work
  • stress or psychosocial hazards, including physical (e.g., noise and vibration) and organizational stressors (e.g., lack of job control, work overload, role uncertainty and conflict, isolation and workplace violence)

Create additional workplace-specific hazard categories as you encounter them (e.g., vehicle driving hazards or hand tool hazards). During the assessment, wear appropriate personal protective equipment and take detailed notes.

The final word: compliance

“Everyone in the workplace needs to understand that they have legislative-driven responsibilities,” says Hill. “Employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect workers, provide information and instruction, and ensure that workers properly use or wear the required equipment. This includes assessing all workplace hazards that could cause injury or illness to your employees, and eliminating or controlling these hazards. Supervisors must know about the hazards and communicate them to workers, and workers must report real and potential hazards up the chain of command. It’s all in the act. You’ve got to do it. Otherwise, you risk facing unnecessary  prosecution.”

When speaking with supervisors and managers, Hill points out that a health and safety hazard assessment is a form of risk management already going on elsewhere in the workplace. “Reducing any type of risk facing your organization is a positive thing for everyone, including the person at the helm, who wants to operate the business with as little risk as possible.”

How WSPS can help

1. Watch for all-new, half-day hazard assessment training. “We’ve already piloted it in several workplaces,” says Hill, “and it’s been a ripping success.” The training will be available in a classroom setting or on site. Check upcoming issues of HSO Network News and HSO Network Magazine for details.

2. Explore other WSPS resources on related topics, such as: