Safety is an essential aspect of every workplace. Indeed, in manufacturing and heavy construction, companies sometimes elevate “safety” to their mission statements as a core value. A proactive safety strategy designed to minimize the chances of illness, injury and death can do more than keep workers out of harm’s way. It can improve productivity, boost morale, reduce absenteeism and lower costs related to on-the-job incidents and accidents. Without such a system, workers run the risk of experiencing issues that could impact worker efficiency, the bottom line, and even the company’s reputation within its industry.
One of the most important steps an occupational safety professional can take to create a safe work environment is to make sure an optimized hazard control strategy is in place. It’s not enough just to be compliant with the law; the hazard control strategy must be one that’s routinely evaluated, incorporates technological innovation, and encourages worker participation and understanding. So, what is hazard control, and why is it so crucial for a company’s overall safety strategy?
Hazards in the Workplace
It is primarily the responsibility of the owners and top managers to make certain that the entire workplace is kept safe from hazards and risks. A big part of this responsibility is recognizing the different types of hazards in the workplace and identifying which ones could be a problem in a company’s operations. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies six different categories of potential workplace hazards to consider:
- Safety Hazards — Faulty equipment, electrical hazards like frayed cords, working from heights such as scaffolds or roofs, and environments conducive to slip and fall incidents, like wet floors
- Biological Hazards — Mold, insects, bodily fluids, bacteria, viruses
- Physical Hazards — Radiation, excessive exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet rays, extreme temperatures, persistent loud noises
- Ergonomic Hazards — Repetitive motion, improper lifting techniques, awkward postures, excessive exertion
- Chemical Hazards — Cleaning products, vapors, and fumes from solvents, gasses, and flammable materials
- Work Organization Hazards — Excessive workload, excessive pace, workplace violence, sexual harassment
These hazards can cause damage in different ways, but they can all lead to devastating results. To maintain a consistent level of safety, management should take a proactive approach to combat these potential hazards by making the specific hazards in the workplace and the company’s hazard control strategies known to workers.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to clearly communicate company safety policies and programs to workers and make printed versions of them visible at all times. Such policies and programs should emphasize the importance of a safe workplace as well as note relevant health and safety goals. These policies and programs should also inform employees that workplace safety is a responsibility shared by the entire team.
An effective policy or program provides all employees with the authority they need to take responsibility for the safety of their workplace. An example of providing such authority may be something as simple as providing health and safety training seminars, which could inspire questions and recommendations from the workers regarding current safety policies and potential improvements. All recommendations given by employees in these situations should be seriously considered, and most should be acted upon.
Job Hazard Analysis
Two major keys to optimal workplace safety are preparation and anticipation. The best way to ensure these elements are incorporated into a safety strategy is to conduct a thorough job hazard analysis.
A job hazard analysis is a proactive technique that identifies vulnerabilities in workplace safety and recommends ways to reduce or eliminate them. It’s a holistic approach to safety that requires the involvement of managers and workers to optimize its effectiveness. It’s also an approach that equips people with the knowledge they need to spot a potential hazard and handle it should it arise.
For safety managers, an effective job hazard analysis has several components:
Conduct a Baseline Hazard Evaluation
Safety professionals should conduct a baseline hazard evaluation that entails a detailed inspection of the entire workplace. Such a survey provides information about the types of hazards present, where they are, and how severe they are. Ideally, this evaluation should begin by analyzing the tasks that involve the most potential hazards, which can vary depending on the industry. It is important to note, though, that an experienced professional should conduct this evaluation. This step should also be repeated on a regular basis.
Analyze Specific Tasks
Job hazard analysis should involve the breakdown of jobs into tasks, each of which is then evaluated on a step-by-step basis to determine the possibility of potential hazards. Typically, such hazard analysis is conducted on jobs that have a history of near misses or accidents. Though the process may be complex, it has proven to be highly effective once fully implemented.
Identify Potential Job Hazards
Potential hazards may not be obvious in the abstract, so finding them may involve observing an employee performing their task. In this situation, it’s important to let the employee know that it is the process that is being observed, and not how they are working. During the observation, any potential hazards should be noted, even if they seem unlikely to cause problems.
Develop Strategies to Eliminate the Hazards
If hazards are discovered during the observation process, they must be immediately eliminated. Hazards may stem from a host of origins, so safety managers need to work at mitigating the problem at its root. This could range from implementing new technology or buying new machinery to something as simple as replacing personal protective equipment or training employees on more efficient and less dangerous methods for their tasks.
Maintain a Culture of Safety
Documenting items and practices that carry the potential to be unsafe is crucial to keeping a workspace safe. To effectively detect and anticipate hazards, an essential tactic is the use of safety data sheets. Employees should be trained to understand and use these data sheets in their daily work routines.
Another critical tool is the use of training programs to help employees avoid accidents due to negligence. In addition, employees should wear protective clothing and gear to avert any health or physical effects resulting from an accident if they work in an environment involving unsafe materials, such as chemicals.
Finally, whenever there is a change in equipment, processes, or materials, safety managers should establish measures to identify new hazards.
In cases of accidents, companies should investigate them accurately and thoroughly to determine their definite causes. A majority of workplace accidents are preventable, so determining these causes enables management to set up measures to eliminate further accidents.
To develop the necessary protective protocol, it is imperative that companies conduct a thorough incident investigation after an accident occurs. One of the key components of an incident investigation involves interviewing witnesses. Through these accounts, management can identify and establish measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Again, it is recommended that the entire workplace team participate in reviewing accidents and implementing solutions.
Become a Hazard Control Leader
What is hazard control? Starting from that question can lead the best safety experts beyond identifying and fixing workplace vulnerabilities. They know that companies with good safety records have developed a strong workplace culture of safety, where everyone involved approaches each job with safety in mind. It’s a culture that can lead a company toward greater success — and an achievement that can give an occupational safety professional a great sense of satisfaction.
Eastern Kentucky University’s online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety can help you become a safety leader with a deeper understanding of hazard control and safety culture. The program features industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.
Learn how you can develop the skills and knowledge you’ll need for an exciting and rewarding career in occupational safety.