Make Proactive Hazard Identification a Priority
The safety industry typically identifies hazards by looking at history. We can understand what hazards are high risk by looking at injury statistics, for example. Similarly, standards, legislation and regulation are based on lessons that have been learned historically.
But identifying a hazard after it has led to an incident is easy – after all, hindsight is 20/20. Anticipating a hazard with the potential to lead to an incident that has never previously occurred is definitely more challenging, but it has a far greater impact. This is why activities like job safety analysis are so important. They give us the opportunity to predict what could go wrong, before it does go wrong.
To do this effectively, we must look beyond our history and past experience to try to imagine negative outcomes that haven’t yet occurred, but are still possible. It may be a more energy-intensive exercise, but it’s a worthwhile one. Taking advantage of a fresh pair of eyes (whether a manager, a health and safety professional, or an outside consultant) can often help here, as someone new to a situation may spot potential hazards that more accustomed workers overlook.
Get Everyone In On the Action
Along this same line, the more eyes and ears you can take advantage of, the better. Typically a company will have identified specific employees who are responsible for conducting hazard assessments and regular inspections to identify and address any hazards present. But a safety smart workforce encourages and enables all employees to “Watch Out For Danger” and report hazards as they see them. In some cases, a way to do this anonymously can help workers to feel comfortable reporting hazards they might otherwise have not reported.
But in order to get the most out of your employees in this area, you need to empower them with hazard identification training. Training widely and frequently in this area will provide you with the best results. Unfortunately, one big challenge for safety managers is that people often quickly forget what they’ve learned. This is particularly true if they don’t have the opportunity to immediately put their new knowledge to use. So give your employees the chance to put their knowledge into action! For example, consider holding a monthly contest where you ask employees to spot the hazard, and seek out their input on the best way to address the hazards identified.
Always Consider the Human Element
Hazards can take many forms, including chemical hazards, material handling hazards, machine hazards, etc. To properly identify many hazards, however, we need to understand human judgment and decision making. A hazard is often not present until we see how humans interact with their surroundings. Ergonomic hazards are one of the most logical examples. A work station may appear to be entirely free of hazards, but when an employee performs their work at that station it can become apparent that the movements required are awkward or even potentially dangerous.