Hazard Analysis—Learn and Be Safe!

Think back, deep in to your memory, when was the last time either at work or at home that you did something that gave you pause? Something that made you think, wow, that could have really hurt. Most people do not have to think very hard, or for very long. Life is full of hazards, and we all take risks.

The severity of these risks and their social, or legal acceptability is where we must stop and really think. Driving to work each day is a risk, there are countless automobile accidents every day resulting in injuries, property damage, and fatalities, yet the vast majority of us get behind the wheel and drive every single day. Am I asking you to stop driving? Maybe, depending on your driving record, but that decision is typically left up to a judge.

So maybe driving is a bad example, but now I have your attention. Think about processes in your workday that involve hazards; paper shredders, ladders, hazardous chemicals, the possibilities are endless, the next few paragraphs will outline a basic process for hazard analysis that can help you stay safer at work and at home.

warning sign

To start, think about the task at hand, let’s use shredding paper as an example. So the task is to shred paper. The hazard is the paper shredder, it is sharp, it has a motor, and its purpose is to suck things into it and destroy them, a bad place for your clothing, hair, or appendages.

After identifying the hazard we have to consider the potential exposure you may have to it, this creates risk. Risk is only in play when you have an exposure to the hazard. The paper shredder sitting the corner is a hazard, but as long as you do not turn it on or use it, there is no risk, once you engage the equipment you have exposed yourself to the hazard, and therefore have created risk.

In our example, your job requires you to shred paper, so there is a possibility of harm, thus risk. If we have risk, then we must employ controls to attempt to control the risk. There is an entire hierarchy of controls that we can put into play to control the risk, they range from eliminating the hazard completely, to wearing personal protective equipment, the hierarchy is interesting and will serve as a good topic for another blog post. In the case of the paper shredder we will put engineering controls into play in the form of guards that shield the blades of the shredder, as well as administrative controls in the form of training, procedures, and warning signs.

So have we taken it far enough, we have a task with a hazard, we have identified risk, and put controls into place? No, the final step is a standard procedure that outlines these items and describes a consistent way to utilize the controls to stay safe. That all important procedure drives consistency, eliminates variables, and keeps us all safer.

So that’s it, a basic process (evaluate the task, describe the hazard, identify risk, develop appropriate controls, establish safe procedures) that will help you analyze hazards. Give it a try, choose something simple to start, and take a few minutes to analyze the hazard, I’d love to hear about the results in the comments section of this blog.

If you have questions on safety protocols, situations, or procedures please contact the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) at 906-487-2118 or email ehs@mtu.edu.