Accidents can happen at any time and anywhere, including at work. The risk of an accident and injury is common on construction sites, due to equipment failure, the careless use of powerful tools and other factors. In manufacturing centers, hazards may be present in the form of toxic chemicals or exposure to extreme heat. Even in conventional office settings, an employee can be injured during routine tasks.
One of the most basic responsibilities of an employer is to ensure the workspace is as safe as possible for all employees. The first steps in this process are identifying — and analyzing — any potential risks or hazards. Only then can the appropriate safety measures be implemented against these threats.
Not only does performing job hazard analysis help keep personnel safe, but it can also maximize productivity and cost effectiveness, as it saves employers from having to deal with costly liability issues. Individuals interested in pursuing a career in occupational safety can develop the skills for conducting job hazard analyses and ensuring workers’ safety by earning an advanced degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety.
What is Job Hazard Analysis?
To understand what job hazard analysis is, it’s important to consider the key elements of this process, along with the ways in which job hazard analysis is distinct from related fields such as risk assessment.
Defining Job Hazard Analysis
At any workplace, there are bound to be accidents, illnesses, injuries and other threats to employees’ health and well-being. One of the reasons why these threats perpetuate — and why they are ultimately so dangerous — is that many workplaces haven’t taken the time to adequately assess the underlying risk factors and root causes of threats. Essentially, this is what a job hazard analysis involves: cataloging any risks to the health and well-being of employees that are present on the worksite, and anticipating the risks that could arise.
Indeed, a crucial aspect of ensuring a safe workplace is making job hazard analysis an ongoing process. In doing this, the appointed health and safety officers continually assess the workplace and catalog potential risk factors.
The endgame of job hazard analysis is not merely to identify risks, but to develop and implement strategies that can eliminate them from the workplace, or at the very least, minimize them. Ultimately, job hazard analysis is focused on improving workplace safety conditions in whatever ways are possible.
Hazard Analysis vs. Risk Assessment
The job hazard analysis process is similar to risk assessment, to the extent that the two disciplines are often assumed to be synonymous. However, there are some important distinctions to be made between the two.
In the context of a workplace, risk assessment involves identifying the level of risk that employees face each day. Like job hazard analysis, risk assessment includes the identification of underlying threats to employee health and wellness, including anything that might lead to illness, accident or injury. With that said, risk assessment goes farther than merely cataloging different risks and looking for ways to minimize them. It also involves the assignment of threat levels, helping employers identify the areas where their workers face extreme risk, moderate risk or low risk.
This emphasis on risk hierarchy and prioritization is a distinguishing feature of risk assessment, and differentiates it from job hazard analysis.
Hazard Analysis at Different Worksites
One of the defining characteristics of job hazard analysis is that it varies from one worksite to the next. The threats faced in an accountant’s office are much different than those faced in a chemical processing facility. When defining job hazard analysis, it’s important to contextualize the answer according to the type of work environment.
Consider what a job hazard analysis might involve at a construction site. If construction workers need to climb ladders or walk on the roof of a building, this could pose a major risk of falling. If employees have to move heavy materials by hand, there’s a chance they could drop something and break a bone. And if their work involves power tools or construction vehicles, there are plenty of ways in which accidents could happen, endangering the lives of other workers on the site.
In an office setting, on the other hand, the potential hazards look rather different. For example, the sedentary nature of office jobs may put employees at a higher risk of becoming obese or suffering from chronic fatigue. If the office has a distribution area or warehouse, the use of a forklift can cause potential accidents. These are just a few examples of what a job hazard analysis might look like in the context of specific work locations.
How to Conduct an Effective Job Hazard Analysis
Having set the parameters for a job hazard analysis, the next step is to outline the process. For employers, it’s important to know how to conduct hazard analysis processes in a way that’s most effective.
Conducting a job hazard analysis involves looking at each step in a process, as well as each project employees take on. It’s important to consider every aspect of each employee’s day-to-day role. An effective job hazard analysis involves looking at every component of the workplace to identify hazards, assess the nature or likelihood of those hazards, and develop ways to remove or control them.
1. Identify Existing Hazards
A preliminary step in how to conduct hazard analysis is noting that there may already be data on file to identify potential workplace threats. This data may come from internal as well as external sources.
Some examples of where to find this data include the following.
- Review the operating manuals for workplace machinery and tools, which may point out some potential risks (and also advise on how to minimize those risks)
- Consult logs of previous workplace illnesses and accidents
- Review workers compensation reports, liability insurance claims or other documentation concerning employee accident and injury.
- Reach out to industry-specific trade organizations or professional associations that may have information about common workplace mishaps.
Gathering and reviewing this information is a meaningful first step in the job hazard analysis process.
2. Inspect the Workplace
A second step in how to conduct hazard analysis is rigorously inspecting the work environment, making note of any potential risks or threats. It’s critical to make this a recurring activity, as opposed to a one-time event. After all, over time, new hazards may be introduced to the workplace, whether due to changes in workplace equipment, neglected maintenance to the workspace, or even changes to day-to-day employee duties and work patterns.
Make sure there are regularly scheduled inspections of all workplace equipment, operational areas and facilities. Consider the use of standardized checklists to guide inspections. Also, involve workers in the process by providing them a way to report any hazards they encounter. Often, these hazards will be obvious, such as broken railings on staircases.
3. Catalog Health Hazards
While identifying physical hazards in the workplace is a fairly straightforward process, cataloging employees’ exposure to different health and safety risks — some of which may not be apparent — is more complicated. Consider a few examples of these hard-to-detect health hazards.
- Chemical hazards, including paints, solvents and other chemicals used throughout the facility
- Physical hazards, such as exposure to heat, radiation or even extreme noise
- Biological hazards, specifically proximity to materials related to infectious diseases
- Ergonomic risks, such as employees lifting heavy materials without the proper equipment
Properly assessing these different hazards may require specialized training and expertise. In such cases, employers may want to enlist the services of workplace safety consultants.
4. Investigate Incidents
One of the simplest ways to identify workplace hazards is to consider accidents, injuries and illnesses that have already taken place. By examining these incidents and closely investigating exactly what happened in each, it may be possible to assess underlying causes and risk factors.
To effectively investigate incidents, it’s important to establish clear processes and procedures, outlining who is responsible for these investigations, how and to whom they will report their findings, and which methods should be used in each incident investigation.
5. Consider Uncommon Situations
Job hazard analysis tends to focus on the routine and everyday aspects of the workplace, but to get a more complete picture it’s important to also take into account emergency and uncommon situations.
Specifically, a sound hazard analysis plan will try to anticipate potential emergencies that might arise and the risks associated with each. Examples of situations include those listed below.
- Chemical spills
- Collapse of facilities
- Disease outbreaks and other workplace medical issues
- Active shooters and other incidents of workplace violence
A proper job hazard analysis will ensure workplace safety plans and procedures are developed for contingencies, including the unusual as well as the routine.
6. Identify Control Measures
After identifying workplace risks and hazards, it’s essential to implement measures for risk reduction or control. Here are some of the steps in this process.
- Consider the potential outcomes of each hazard, including the number of workers who may be affected.
- Look for short-term control measures that can be implemented until a more permanent solution can be developed.
- Brainstorm solutions that either eliminate the hazard or minimize employee exposure to it.
7. Standardize Procedures
Remember that job hazard analysis is not a one-time thing. Rather, it’s something that should be performed on an ongoing basis. This means standardizing processes for how job hazard analyses are carried out. Identify the personnel responsible for performing the job hazard analysis, as well as the leaders or supervisors to whom they report, and then establish a schedule for job hazard analysis.
Job Hazard Analysis Techniques
Clearly, job hazard analysis can be a complex process. While some hazards can be identified by untrained observers, others may require the use of specialized job hazard analysis techniques. Indeed, there are many strategies and tools that occupational safety professionals use to pinpoint different risks in the workplace.
In some settings, job hazard analysis techniques may include quantitative exposure assessments that require the use of specialized measurement tools. For example, in industrial workspaces, occupational safety professionals may implement equipment that provides a scientific evaluation of air quality, exposure to airborne pollutants or heat and radiation levels in employee areas.
Another important technique involves routine equipment inspection. Occupational safety professionals must determine the integrity of each equipment part or component to discover any vulnerabilities and assess the risk of malfunction. Often, equipment inspection can point to some basic maintenance or repair solutions, which can in turn improve employee safety conditions.
In addition to inspecting equipment, occupational safety professionals must take a close look at the physical environments in which employees work. Are there latent exposures to substances that could cause health problems? Some common examples include mold hidden in walls or floorboards, or exposure to animals that could trigger allergic reactions or skin irritations.
One of the most important job hazard analysis techniques is risk prioritization. Occupational safety professionals need to determine which hazards pose the most urgent threat to workers. These are the threats that require prompt — ideally immediate — remediation. Risk prioritization provides some guidance as to how the control process should unfold and where workplace safety resources should be diverted.
Evaluating Employee Operations
Occupational safety professionals may also spend time observing employees as they perform day-to-day tasks, and specifically note any activities that invite accidents or injury. This may involve watching employees sit for long periods of time in non-ergonomic chairs or straining to reach heavy items on high shelves. By identifying these vulnerabilities, occupational safety professionals may be able to suggest simple operational changes that remove or reduce workplace peril.
What is the Purpose of Job Hazard Analysis?
It is evident that job hazard analysis requires a substantial investment of time, attention and resources. Naturally, some questions arise. Is it worth it? What is the purpose of job hazard analysis and what value can it bring to a company?
Short-Term Benefits of Job Hazard Analysis
Job hazard analysis can help companies achieve optimal operational efficiency, including both short-term and long-term benefits.
As for short-term benefits, one of the most obvious is the reduction of worksite injuries. By implementing controls to remove or eliminate various hazards, companies can directly reduce the number of employee hours lost to injuries or other medical needs. Not only can this improve productivity, but it may also boost employee morale, helping employees feel more secure and comfortable in their physical work environments.
Long-Term Benefits of Job Hazard Analysis
There are also long-term benefits to analyzing job hazards and implementing appropriate controls.
One benefit is that projects can be completed in a more timely manner, as there is less disruption due to employees being injured or requiring sick leave. Avoiding such delays means companies can take on more projects and provide their clients with a higher degree of satisfaction.
Job hazard analysis can also save money. For example, by taking the proper measures to promote employee safety, workplaces may see their liability insurance costs go down. Along the same lines, a commitment to workplace safety may reduce the incidents of workers’ compensation payouts.
Finally, fewer on-site accidents reduce employers’ exposure to lawsuits, which can be a significant drain on company resources. Minimizing litigation expenses is one of the biggest benefits of implementing job hazard analysis.
Additional Benefits of Job Hazard Analysis
Robust workplace safety processes can ensure a business maintains its good standing with important government agencies and organizations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is one example. Maintaining a good reputation with OSHA and other regulatory organizations can ultimately mean less scrutiny, minimized the need to supply documentation, and lower the risk of being fined for regulatory or compliance violations.
Measures for a Sound Environment
Any workplace involves some level of employee risk. That’s as true in office parks as it is at construction sites. For employers, there is merit to knowing the risks to workers and taking prompt and proper measures to minimize and control them. Job hazard analysis enables employers to ensure optimal productivity, and may also help reduce the costs associated with workers’ compensation, insurance, litigation and compliance penalties.
Those who are interested in occupational safety and are curious about pursuing this career path can learn more via The Eastern Kentucky University online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety.
This degree program provides the specialized training to conduct job hazard analysis across a wide range of job sites — and ultimately enjoy a successful career ensuring workers are sufficiently protected.