One of the “root causes” of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidents is the failure to identify or recognize hazards that are present, or that could have been anticipated.
The OSHA Hazard Communications Standard (HCS) requires employers to inform employees of the chemicals in their work area that are hazardous, and to provide information on handling, exposure limits, proper protective equipment requirements, emergency procedures for spills and releases, etc.
The HCS also requires employers to create labels for containers or packages containing hazardous chemicals; and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) which are provided to downstream users with additional hazard information.
So knowledge of hazards is essential when workers handle any employer supplied materials or equipment.
How can you identify hazards?
First by asking yourself “what could go wrong?”, followed by “what if something goes wrong?” – then identifying what COULD be the root cause of a problem that could have been avoided.
They’re are certain actions or conditions that should lead to further investigation of potential hazards.
- For instance, workers who complain about eye irritation – a possible sign of “invisible” dusts such as silica, asbestos, and metal powders.
- Observations of slips and falls on slopes without safeguards in place.
- Slippery floors when there is no slip-resistant flooring material present
- Electrical cords with frayed insulation.
Always be alert!
This can help point out the need to investigate further.
If an action will eliminate one or more hazards identified, then employers should implement actions for permanent solutions whenever feasible.
These are actions or procedures to reduce hazards, often only temporarily. For example, rather than removing all the possible dust from a dusty environment during a “day at the beach” sanding project (very hard to do), you provide respirators for workers and wet-mop the floors after each work day. The procedural safeguard is the use of respiratory protection and floor mopping immediately after finish work is completed each day on the project.
This involves identifying warning signs of potential problems that could occur in certain conditions as well as procedures for preventing those conditions from occurring. For example, if water is suspected to be entering an electrical enclosure where electronics are present they should be removed before any significant amount of water accumulates.
Examine OSHA standards to see what requirements are applicable for your employees: OSHA has a variety of safety and health-related standards, under Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR), that provide specific requirements which employers must meet. Employers can design their own programs which include additional measures, but they need to be able to show that their “good faith” efforts to maintain a safe workplace led them to take the actions they did.
The following sections from 29 CFR Part 1910 provide examples on how hazards in the workplace could be addressed through procedural safeguards, precautions, or both:
If basic engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation or other engineering controls cannot eliminate or adequately reduce employee exposure to a harmful substance, employers must ensure that workers use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE means equipment worn by an employee for protection against a hazard.
- Eye and face protection which is required when there are “splashes” of corrosive liquids;
- Face shields/shields with explosion-proof lenses if there is the possibility of flying fragments in case of fire;
- Full body harnesses and lifelines if high fall hazards exist;
- Protective clothing such as impermeable gloves, coveralls, etc. when chemicals could be absorbed through the skin;
- Safe work practices such as requesting qualified personnel to set up overhead crane loads near points where workers are present;
- Properly engineered ladders if employees will be working on or near scaffolds; and/or
- Respiratory protection to avoid inhalation of harmful dusts that cannot be eliminated by routine engineering controls.