Health & Safety Insights

Top 5 Tips for Completing a Hazard Assessment

Matthew Nuckolls, CSP - Sr. Safety Consultant

Date: 1/21/2022

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are some simple steps and recommended practices when identifying and assessing hazards.

In order to identify and also assess hazards, employers and employees should:

  • Review information available within the workplace about hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace.
  • Establish a frequent inspection process to identify new or status of existing hazards.
  • Always take a closer took by investigating injuries, illnesses, incidents, as well as near misses to identify the hazards and identify the safety and health program deficiencies.
  • Assess trends in injuries, illnesses, and hazards reported.
  • Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents that could result for each hazard identified and prioritize corrective actions.


Step 1: Review information available about workplace hazards

Information on workplace hazards may already be available to employers and workers, from both internal and external sources.

Actions to put in place:

Collect, organize and review information with workers to determine what types of hazards may be present and which workers may be exposed or potentially exposed. Information available in the workplace may include:

  • Equipment and machinery operating manuals.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) provided by chemical manufacturers.
  • Self-inspection reports and inspection reports from insurance carriers, government agencies, and consultants.
  • Records of previous injuries and illnesses, such as OSHA 300 and 301 logs and reports of incident investigations.
  • Workers' compensation records and reports.
  • Patterns of frequently occurring injuries and illnesses.
  • Exposure monitoring results, industrial hygiene assessments, and medical records (appropriately redacted to ensure patient/worker privacy).
  • Existing safety and health programs (lockout/tagout, confined spaces, personal protective equipment, etc.).
  • Input from workers, including surveys or minutes from safety and health committee meetings.
  • Results of job hazard analyses, also known as job safety analyses.


Step 2: Inspect the workplace for safety hazards

Hazards can be introduced over time as work and processes change, equipment or tools become worn, maintenance is neglected, or housekeeping practices decline. Setting aside time to regularly inspect the workplace for hazards can help identify shortcomings so that they can be addressed before an incident occurs.

Actions to put in place:

  • Conduct regular inspections of all operations, equipment, work areas and facilities. Have workers participate on the inspection team and talk to them about hazards that they see or report.
  • Be sure to document inspections so you can later verify that hazardous conditions are corrected. Take photos or video of problem areas to facilitate later discussion and brainstorming about how to control them, and for use as learning aids.
  • Include all areas and activities in these inspections, such as storage and warehousing, facility, and equipment maintenance, purchasing and office functions, and the activities of on-site contractors, subcontractors, and temporary employees.
  • Regularly inspect both plant vehicles (e.g., forklifts, powered industrial trucks) and transportation vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks).
  • Use checklists that highlight things to look for. Typical hazards fall into several major categories, such as those listed below; each workplace will have its own list:
    • General housekeeping o Slip, trip, and fall hazards
    • Electrical hazards o Equipment operation o Equipment maintenance
    • Fire protection o Work organization and process flow (including staffing and scheduling)
    • Work practices o Workplace violence
    • Ergonomic problems
    • Lack of emergency procedures
  • Before changing operations, workstations, or workflow; making major organizational changes; or introducing new equipment, materials, or processes, seek the input of workers and evaluate the planned changes for potential hazards and related risks.


Step 3: Identify health hazards

Identifying workers' exposure to health hazards is typically more complex than identifying physical safety hazards. For example, gases and vapors may be invisible, often have no odor, and may not have an immediately noticeable harmful health effect. Health hazards include chemical hazards (solvents, adhesives, paints, toxic dusts, etc.), physical hazards (noise, radiation, heat, etc.), biological hazards (infectious diseases), and ergonomic risk factors (heavy lifting, repetitive motions, vibration). Reviewing workers' medical records (appropriately redacted to ensure patient/worker privacy) can be useful in identifying health hazards associated with workplace exposures.

Actions to put in place:

  • Identify chemical hazards by reviewing SDS and product labels to identify chemicals in your workplace that have low exposure limits, are highly volatile, or are used in large quantities or in unventilated spaces. Identify activities that may result in skin exposure to chemicals.
  • Identify physical hazards to spot any exposures to excessive noise (areas where you must raise your voice to be heard by others), elevated heat (indoor and outdoor), or sources of radiation (radioactive materials, X-rays, or radiofrequency radiation).
  • Identify biological hazards to determine whether workers may be exposed to sources of infectious diseases, molds, toxic or poisonous plants, or animal materials (fur or scat) capable of causing allergic reactions or occupational asthma.
  • Identify ergonomic risk factors and examine work activities that require heavy lifting, work above shoulder height, repetitive motions, or tasks with significant vibration. • Conduct quantitative exposure assessments, and when possible, using air sampling or direct reading instruments.
  • Review medical records to identify cases of musculoskeletal injuries, skin irritation or dermatitis, hearing loss, or lung disease that may be related to workplace exposures.


Step 4: Conduct incident investigations

Workplace incidents –including injuries, illnesses, near misses, and observation programs– provide a clear indication of where hazards exist. By thoroughly investigating incidents and reports, you will identify hazards that are likely to cause future harm. The purpose of an investigation must always be to identify the root causes of the incident or concern, to prevent future occurrences.

Actions to put in place:

  • Develop a clear plan and procedure for conducting incident investigations, so that an investigation can begin immediately when an incident occurs. The plan should cover items such as: o Who will be involved o Lines of communication o Materials, equipment, and supplies needed o Reporting forms and templates
  • Train investigation teams on incident investigation techniques, emphasizing objectivity and open-mindedness throughout the investigation process.
  • Conduct investigations with a trained team that includes representatives of both management and workers.
  • Investigate close calls/near misses.
  • Identify and analyze root causes to address underlying program shortcomings that allowed the incidents to happen.
  • Communicate the results of the investigation to managers, supervisors, and workers to prevent recurrence.


Step 5: Determine the severity and likelihood of incidents

The next step is to assess and understand the hazards identified and the types of incidents that could result from worker exposure to the previously identified hazards. This information can be used to develop interim controls and to prioritize hazards for permanent control.

Actions to put in place:

  • Evaluate each hazard by considering the severity of potential outcomes, the likelihood that an event or exposure will occur, and the number of workers who might be exposed.
  • Use interim control measures to protect workers until more permanent solutions can be implemented.
  • Prioritize the hazards so that those presenting the greatest risk are addressed first.