Watch For It - Health & Safety for Your Small Businesses: Let’s Make This Easier

Sep 30, 2015

If you don't manage your hazards, your hazards will manage you.

They have every advantage you don't. They like to lurk and are patient. They know how to spring a surprise. And they have the power to pack a catastrophic wallop - to your workers, your reputation, your bottom line.

Look behind any workplace injury, any workplace illness and especially any fatality, and you'll find a uncontrolled hazard at the wheel.

"Watch for it" is the fourth of six steps to an effective health and safety program, designed by our trusted health and safety provider, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS).

What is the "it" you need to watch for? Workplace hazards built into your business operations, hiding behind corners yet in plain sight, disguised as obstacles to getting the job done fast.

What are the top hazards

The Ministry of Labour (MOL) defines a hazard as anything in the workplace that could hurt someone: a practice, behaviour, tool or equipment, substance, condition, or combination of these.

Here are the five top hazards1 that MOL inspectors look for in the agricultural, industrial and services industries (from their schedule of upcoming blitzes):

  • New and young workers
  • Material handling
  • Vulnerable and temporary foreign workers
  • Machine guarding
  • Slips, trips and falls

"These five categories provide a useful framework," says Paul Mansfield, account manager at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), our trusted health and safety provider. "But remember, nobody knows your world better than you do. You're the expert."

Four steps to disarming a hazard

Hazards have more power than anything or anyone in your workplace. Left unchecked, they call the shots on your business. Here are four steps to disarm a hazard:

  1. Blow their cover by identifying and naming them (you'll find helpful links and downloads in the WSPS Roadmap for Small Business (look for it on
  2. Assess the risk they pose to your workers (injuries, illnesses, fatalities) and your company (equipment damage, loss of reputation, reduced employee engagement).
  3. Rank them according to the severity and likelihood of harm.
  4. Develop an action plan to eliminate or control them.

"I've visited a lot of small businesses who don't know what I mean by a hazard assessment," says Mansfield, "and yet it's the foundation of any health and safety program. Some companies develop policies and procedures on things that don't matter. Meanwhile they're missing the obvious stuff that could seriously injure or kill someone."

What’s involved in a hazard assessment

Here are five steps for getting launched.

  1. Form an assessment team of at least two people. Manager and supervisors are required by law to know what the hazards are. Include a fresh pair of eyes on the team: an employee from another work area, a colleague from another company, or an outside consultant.
  2. Determine an approach. Will you identify hazards by season, work area, steps within the work flow, or equipment? What makes the most sense for your organization?
  3. Do your homework. Tour your workplace and talk with staff. Look for activities, equipment, tools, materials, chemicals and situations that could result in an injury. Review any records of hazardous materials, previous inspections, or hazard or injury reports.
  4. Involve your workers. As staff walk you through tasks step by step, ask questions like, "What's happened in the past? What could potentially happen? If someone wasn't trained, what could go wrong? If I were doing it, what could hurt me, and how badly could I be hurt?". "Build ownership by engaging your staff in your hazard assessment right from the get-go," says Mansfield. "If you do it on your own and then say 'here are the hazards and here's what you have to do,' you've lost them. You might think you know the job, but you'll never know it as well as they do."
  5. Rank your hazards. By now you'll have a long list of hazards, perhaps 30 or 40. For each hazard, ask two questions: what is the likelihood of something happening? And if an injury did happen, what would be the severity (e.g. a cut finger or a trip to Emergency). Address your top hazards first.

Let's make this easier

You deserve to be on the simplest, fastest path to a healthy, safe and productive workforce. Check out all six steps to an effective health and safety program in the "Roadmap," "How-To Guide," and other resources offered on the WSPS Small Business Safety Made Easy, and find out how to get it, do it, write it down, watch for it, report it, and find it.