The health, safety, and well-being of employees in the working environment can only be ensured if safety professionals and company leaders take a proactive leading role in managing health and safety in the workplace. Many organizations have proven that an efficient and effective safety management approach not only leads to increased productivity and profits, but also reduces the potential for work-related injuries and illnesses. A good safety management approach involves identifying major hazards and controlling or reducing the associated risks. This can be achieved by conducting hazard identification studies in conjunction with other workforce management tools. (Learn more in "Physical Demands Analysis 101".)

What is a hazard identification study?

A hazard identification study seeks to identify hazards in the workplace, as well as assess the risks associated with the identified hazards. The aim of conducting hazard identification studies is therefore to prevent and reduce any adverse impact that could result in injuries to workers, or damage to property and the environment. This is done through a review of records of accidents and juries, a site inspection, work observation, and other methods of collecting data on a particular work environment.

What is a hazard?

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), a hazard is any source of potential harm or adverse health effects to personnel, or any source of potential harm or damage to property and the environment.

What is a risk?

A risk is the probability or chance that a person will experience an adverse health effects or harm as a result of being be exposed to a hazard. This may also be applied to the damage of property or negative effects on the environment.

Why is it important to conduct hazard identification studies?

Employers have a responsibility under Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations to provide their employees with a safe working environment free from hazards and risks. Therefore, employers have a legal duty to eliminate any potential hazards at the workplace, and control or reduce the associated risks. Lower accidents also decrease production delays and healthcare costs. (Learn more in "A Look at Lower Back Pain in the Workplace".) Conducting a hazard identification study will allow employers to identify any potential major incidents and the associated hazards, as well as the causes that could have lead to such major incidents in the first place. Some benefits of a hazard identification study include:

  • Helping to identify all major incidents that can occur at the workplace.
  • Providing employers with knowledge and understanding of the causes of major incidents so that they may be able to prevent future occurrences.
  • Raising awareness among employees regarding the potential hazards and risks that may exist in the workplace and how to deal with them.
  • Showing clear links between hazards, root causes, and potential major incidents.
  • Providing a basis of selecting, rejecting, and evaluating hazard control measures.
  • Allowing for a systematic record keeping of all hazards identified, their potential risks, and control measures.

Key steps in conducting a hazard identification study

All hazards that can cause or contribute to causing a major incident, as well as the associated controls must be identified. Therefore, the key steps in conducting a hazard identification study are:

1. Defining the major incident

A major incident is one that poses a serious and immediate threat to health and safety.

2. Identifying the hazards

Identify the hazards associated with each major incident defined. Hazards may be found in the:

Methods for identifying hazards include:

  • Observation of work processes, and workers' attitudes, behaviors, and work practices.
  • Reviewing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Conducting hazard and risk surveys
  • Conducting safety audits
  • Hosting discussion groups with workers

3. Assessing the risk

For each of the hazards identified, assess the likelihood and possible severity of injury or harm to workers. It is important to identify and qualify the risk before attempted to decide how to best reduce it. Hazards that pose higher and more immediate risks should be addressed first, as well as urgently.

4. Preliminary identification of control measures.

Determine what are the controls for each of the hazards and associated risks identified. Consider the following control measures, listed in the order of importance:

  • Remove the hazard at the source to prevent the hazard from occurring.
  • Eliminate the hazard altogether or replace it with a less hazardous option.
  • Isolate the hazardous substance or process from workers if possible.
  • Reduce the risk associated with the hazard.
  • Adopt engineering controls.
  • Adopt safe work procedures and processes.
  • Provide training and supervision.
  • Provide workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment.

When to conduct a hazard identification study?

A hazard identification study may be conducted at any time or when new work processes, equipment, and personnel are introduced to the workplace. The earlier that a hazard is identified, the easier and more cost-effectively it can be eliminated or managed.

Who is responsible for conducting the hazard identification study?

A multi-disciplined team of qualified experts typically conducts the hazard identification study. These individuals are highly familiar with the job process, materials, and work activities. Additionally, the team may include personnel who have formal training on risk analysis methods. After the study has been completed, the data is present to management who must then decide on the control measures to be implemented to achieve the company’s risk reduction goals. Additionally, management is also responsible for periodically evaluating and monitoring the implemented control measures.

The bottom line

The HazID process should be relevant to the workplace, and the information obtained should be provided to all employees and management who will benefit from the information. By identifying and reducing hazards, a company can increase productivity, reduce down time, reduce accidents, increase morale, reduce workers' compensation claims, and decrease health care costs.