How to Identify Risks in the Workplace

View all blog posts under Articles

An occupational safety professional is giving a safety briefing to the manufacturing team on the factory floor.Workplace safety only seems to capture the media’s attention when something goes horribly wrong. When a tragic event occurs like a construction worker’s death or a fatal accident involving industrial equipment, the focus eventually turns to determining what workplace safety gaps led to the incident. Typically, this is followed by a discussion of what measures could and should have been taken to prevent such a tragedy.

While fatalities and major accidents may attract attention, oftentimes breaches in safety are much smaller. This does not mean they are any less of a concern. Indeed, there are many ways an individual can be placed at risk of injury or illness while at work. When these risks aren’t mitigated, a business can experience a range of negative consequences, from reduced employee morale to potential litigation.

It’s critical for occupational safety professionals to be aware of workplace risks, develop strategies to reduce their prevalence in the workplace, promote a safe work environment and keep employees protected.

5 Workplace Risk Examples

There are several common risks in the workplace that occupational safety professionals must be mindful of when developing a risk management strategy. These issues can manifest in different ways and can impact individual health and safety differently, but they all share one trait: They can all spell significant trouble for the employee and the organization if not prevented.

Some of the most common hazards in today’s workplaces include the following.

1. Contagious Illnesses

Employees may come to work when they are sick either because they don’t have available time off or don’t want to use those hours for illness. Every business, regardless of industry, is vulnerable to this health and safety issue. While this hazard was of particular concern at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is just as relevant in non-pandemic times.

2. Driving Accidents

Accidents that occur during the daily commute or while driving work vehicles are a leading cause of fatalities. Overtired employees and those distracted by mobile digital devices are an especially deadly combination.

3. Workplace Violence

Workplace violence does not only include employee conflicts, it also encompasses violent activity from the outside. Armed robbery is a very real threat for employees of convenience stores, fast-food outlets, pharmacies, banks and other easy targets.

4. Material Hazards

Industrial employees can experience long-term physical damage from repeated exposure to chemicals of various types. Examples include lead, asbestos, benzene and similar toxins that have been proven to cause cancer and other diseases.

5. Equipment and Machinery

Falls and other injuries are a daily workplace occurrence for many employers. Warehouse workers, equipment operators, electricians, construction workers, restaurant employees and even landscapers can sustain injuries.

Risk Management in the Workplace

Mitigating risk and promoting safety is a proactive strategy. Occupational safety professionals must have the foresight to create a work environment that encourages workers to make safety a top priority. There are several ways this can occur.

For example, it’s important for occupational safety professionals to involve their employees in the creation of any safety strategy. Because employees are immersed in the work environment, they have a firsthand understanding of work conditions and potential hazards. Employee feedback can result in more efficient, effective means of resolving safety vulnerabilities.

Another key strategy is to develop and evaluate various options on how to fix potential hazards. Approaching the same issue from different angles can make it easier to arrive at an optimal solution.

Once a solution is determined, it’s important for occupational safety professionals to create a clear implementation plan to ensure its desired effectiveness. Whatever the strategy may be, it’s important to constantly evaluate its performance to make sure it works as well in practice as it may have looked on paper.

Finally, it’s crucial to prepare for emergencies or incidents that may be out of the control of workers or the workplace. Examples of this include floods, hurricanes or earthquakes.

Occupational safety professionals can also turn to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for assistance in building their strategies. The organization, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides ample resources to help companies facilitate risk management in the workplace and communicate potential dangers.

OSHA’s standard recommendations include:

  • Widely publishing and disseminating safety policies
  • Labeling and placing signs in hazardous areas
  • Multilingual training classes and materials
  • Regular medical examinations
  • Periodic safety inspections
  • An effective incident reporting system
  • Protective gear for employees
  • Equipment testing and maintenance.
  • Onsite security for vulnerable facilities

As an occupational safety professional, it is your responsibility to address all aspects of workplace safety and risk mitigation. There is no doubt that instituting the proper measures adds expense in the short run. Nonetheless, the inherent value of avoiding workplace incidents far exceeds any investments that must be made. The cost of employee litigation, survivor benefits and bad press cannot truly be measured.

Be a Leader in Work Safety

Keeping employees safe should always be the top priority for any company. Without this mindset, negative and often dangerous ramifications can be experienced by workers and the organization alike. This makes the role of the occupational safety professional a crucial one. Their expertise in creating and promoting safety in the workplace makes occupational safety personnel valuable to a company’s reputation and success.

Eastern Kentucky University’s online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program can help you develop into a fearless leader who creates a rich culture of safety. Our program can help you learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks. The curriculum is taught by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

Learn how we can help you become a trusted voice in worker protection.

Recommended Reading

How to Conduct a Job Hazard Analysis

Reducing Driver, Pilot, and Machinery Operator Distractions

What Is Disaster Recovery? Definition, Solutions and Careers


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “COVID-19: Guidance for Businesses & Employers”

Fox 19, “Police: Worker Dies in Industrial Accident at Multi-Color Corp”

Hunter Industrial, “The Financial Impact of Workplace Injuries”

Inc., “9 Avoidable Workplace Health and Safety Hazards”

Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, “Two Construction Workers Fall to Their Deaths from 40th Floor of Tel Aviv Building”

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Employer Responsibilities

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Healthcare

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Machine Guarding

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Motor Vehicle Safety

United States Department of Labor, OSHA, Workplace Violence