Hazards may arise from: acts such as manual handling; situations such as working at height or in a confined space; or sources of energy such as a radiation source, or the moving parts of a machine.
Hazards may be categorised as:
- Mechanical: e.g. moving parts of machinery or moving vehicles.
- Physical: e.g. noise or vibration energy, radiation, or electricity.
- Biological: e.g. legionella bacteria or blood borne viruses.
- Chemical: e.g. corrosive or toxic cleaning chemicals.
- Ergonomic: e.g. poor posture or repetitive work at a computer workstation.
- Psychosocial: e.g. pressure of work or shift-work.
The approaches to hazard identification will vary from workplace to workplace depending on the complexity of the business and the hazards present. Whatever the context, it is important that a consistent approach is determined to ensure that significant hazards are proactively identified.
Hazards can cause harm in a variety of ways. Some are obvious, others not so much. For example; it would probably be obvious to most people that a piece of machinery (such as a concrete cutter) is capable of inflicting serious physical injuries. What might not be so obvious is the silica dust generated when the concrete is cut, which can cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory diseases.
Non-routine operations such as maintenance, cleaning and changes in production cycles should be considered as should long-term-health hazards from noise or exposure to substances that are hazardous to health.
Identifying hazards requires having a thorough understanding of the task the person is carrying out. A job safety analysis (JSA) may be used to break the task down into its component steps and identify hazards at each stage.
Hazards may be systematically identified by considering issues around materials, equipment, environment or people (MEEP). The materials, equipment and environment issues prompt consideration of unsafe conditions, the people issues relate to unsafe acts and behaviours. The MEEP analysis may be used in conjunction with or independent to a JSA.
Another approach considers who, what, why, when, where, how, some examples:
- Who is responsible for what during the task;
- What plant, equipment or materials are being used;
- Why is the work being done in the first place, or why are these methods considered to be the most appropriate;
- When will the work take place;
- Where the work is to be undertaken – identifying local hazards; and
- How the task is done.
Yet another approach considers the ‘4P’s’ to ensure that all areas of work activity and risk creation are addressed:
- Premises: including the place of work, entrances and exits, the general working environment, welfare facilities, and all plant and facilities which are part of the fixed structure, such as permanent electrical installations;
- Plant and substances: including the arrangements for their handling, transport, storage and use;
- Procedures: including the design of jobs and work procedures and all aspects of the way the work is done;
- People: including the placement of employees, their competence for the job and any health surveillance needed
There are many sources of useful information to aid in identifying hazards. Broadly, information may be obtained from sources within the organisation e.g. absence records, accident investigation reports etc.; and from sources external to the organisation, such as suppliers, enforcing authorities or trade associations.
Information readily available within the organisation may include:
- The personal knowledge and experience of managers and employees;
- Workplace inspections to identify any obvious concerns
- Accident, ill health and incident data;
- Records of previous proactive and reactive monitoring, i.e. accident investigations and workplace inspections;
- Historical records of audits and management reviews and accident/ill-health records can often help to identify the less obvious hazards, including hazards to health (e.g. from exposure to high levels of noise or harmful fumes) and;
- Other existing records such as training records, maintenance records, safety committee minutes and records of statutory inspections and examinations.
Information sources outside the organisation include:
- Legislation and supporting Approved Codes of Practice which give practical guidance and include basic minimum requirements, and HSE Guidance. UK Government legislation can be viewed at, and printed from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ and the HSE web pages include access to free pdf versions of most HSE guidance at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/index.htm
- Product information provided under HASAWA, e.g. safety data sheets for hazardous substances, or safe operating instructions for plant or machinery.
- Relevant British and international standards.
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) publishes Codes of Practice on a range of health and safety issues such as: safe use of machinery, construction site safety. These codes tend to be influential in developing nations.
- Industry or trade association guidance or guidance from professional bodies, examples include: the Chemical Industries Association Guidance on Selection of Occupational Health Professionals; the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) guidance on Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOPs); and the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) publish the IEE Wiring Regulations (Institute of Electrical Engineers – now part of IET).
- Expert advice and opinion from specialists and consultants;
- Relevant research which may have been undertaken or commissioned by the HSE (research reports are accessible via the website), by professional bodies, trade unions or academic institutions; and
- Subscription based databases of health and safety information, e.g. Technical Indexes / IHS (OHSIS), Barbour or Croner.