Identifying hazards in the workplace involve finding things and situations that could potentially cause harm to people. Hazards generally arise from the following aspects of work and their interaction:
- the physical work environment
- equipment, materials, and substances used
- work tasks and how they are performed
- work design and management
The table below lists some common types of workplace hazards. Some hazards are part of the work process, such as mechanical hazards, noise or toxic properties of substances. Other hazards result from equipment or machine failures and misuse, chemical spills, and structural failures.
A piece of plant, substance or a work process may have many different hazards. Each of these hazards needs to be identified. For example, a production line may have dangerous moving parts, noise, hazards associated with manual tasks and psychological hazards due to the pace of work.
Examples of common hazards
Overexertion or repetitive movement can cause muscular strain
Falling objects falls, slips and trips of people can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or death
Potential ignition source.
Exposure to live electrical wires can cause shock, burns or death from electrocution
Machinery and equipment
Being hit by moving vehicles, or being caught by moving parts of machinery can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death
Chemicals (such as acids, hydrocarbons, heavy metals) and dust (such as asbestos and silica) can cause respiratory illnesses, cancers or dermatitis
Heat can cause burns, heat stroke or fatigue Cold can cause hypothermia or frostbite
Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing damage
Ultraviolet, welding arc flashes, microwaves, and lasers can cause burns, cancer or blindness
Micro-organisms can cause hepatitis, legionnaires’ disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies
Effects of work-related stress, bullying, violence, and work-related fatigue
How to Find Hazards
INSPECT THE WORKPLACE
Regularly walking around the workplace and observing how things are done can help you predict what could or might go wrong.
Look at how people actually work, how plant and equipment is used, what chemicals are around and what they are used for, what safe or unsafe work practices exist as well as the general state of housekeeping.
Things to look out for include the following:
- Does the work environment enable workers to carry out work without risks to health and safety (for example, space for unobstructed movement, adequate ventilation, lighting)?
- How suitable are the tools and equipment for the task and how well are they maintained?
- Have any changes occurred in the workplace which may affect health and safety?
Hazards are not always obvious. Some hazards can affect health over a long period of time or may result in stress (such as bullying) or fatigue (such as shift work). Also think about hazards that you may bring into your workplace as new, used or hired goods (for example, worn insulation on a hired welding set).
As you walk around, you may spot straightforward problems and action should be taken on these immediately, for example cleaning up a spill. If you find a situation where there is an immediate or significant danger to people, move those persons to a safer location first and attend to the hazard urgently.
Make a list of all the hazards you can find, including the ones you know are already being dealt with, to ensure that nothing is missed. You may use a checklist designed to suit your workplace to help you find and make a note of hazards.
CONSULT YOUR WORKERS
Ask your workers about any health and safety problems they have encountered in doing their work and any near misses or incidents that have not been reported.
Worker surveys may also be undertaken to obtain information about matters such as workplace bullying, as well as muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards.
REVIEW AVAILABLE INFORMATION
Information and advice about hazards and risks relevant to particular industries and types of work is available from regulators, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.
Manufacturers and suppliers can also provide information about hazards and safety precautions for specific substances (safety data sheets), plant or processes (instruction manuals).
Analyse your records of health monitoring, workplace incidents, near misses, worker complaints, sick leave and the results of any inspections and investigations to identify hazards. If someone has been hurt doing a particular task, then a hazard exists that could hurt someone else. These incidents need to be investigated to find the hazard that caused the injury or illness.
A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of it happening. A risk assessment can help you determine:
- how severe a risk is
- whether any existing control measures are effective
- what action you should take to control the risk
- how urgently the action needs to be
A risk assessment can be undertaken with varying degrees of detail depending on the type of hazards and the information, data, and resources that you have available. It can be as simple as a discussion with your workers or involve specific risk analysis tools and techniques recommended by safety professionals.
When should a risk assessment be carried out?
A risk assessment should be done when:
- there is uncertainty about how a hazard may result in injury or illness
- the work activity involves a number of different hazards and there is a lack of understanding about how the hazards may interact with each other to produce new or greater risks
- changes at the workplace occur that may impact on the effectiveness of control
A risk assessment is mandatory under the WHS Regulations for high-risk activities such as entry into confined spaces, diving work and lives electrical work.
Some hazards that have exposure standards, such as noise and airborne contaminants, may require scientific testing or measurement by a competent person to accurately assess the risk and to check that the relevant exposure standard is not being exceeded (for example, by using noise meters to measure noise levels and using gas detectors to analyse oxygen levels in confined spaces).
A risk assessment is not necessary for the following situations:
- Legislation requires some hazards or risks to be controlled in a specific way – these requirements must be compiled
- A code of practice or other guidance sets out a way of controlling a hazard or risk that
Is applicable to your situation and you choose to use the recommended controls. In these instances, the guidance can be followed.
- There are well-known and effective controls that are in use in the particular industry, that are suited to the circumstances in your workplace. These controls can simply be