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Construction Safety: 6 Action Steps to Identify and Control Workplace Hazards

In this month's Construction Safety Blog, we're throwing back to the very first video that Frick & Frack created for our viewers, "The 3 Key Safety Factors that Guide Decision Making."

This safety video was the kick-off to our ten-month series, The Ten Factors That Affect Risk Tolerance, and started off by asking an important question: why do people behave recklessly on the job site anyway?

Today, we take an even closer look at how to avoid reckless behavior by eliminating potential hazards. 

A Quick Review

Previously, Frick & Frack identified the three main reasons that someone might behave in a reckless manner on the job site, despite having safety gear and training:

Today, we'll take a closer look at hazard recognition and identification and how to approach this topic in the workplace. 

Action Items to Implement a Proactive, Ongoing Process

According to OSHA, the failure to identify or assess hazards is a root cause of accidents in the workplace. Employers and employees have the responsibility to collect and review information about potential hazards in their workplace, conduct inspections, investigate incidents, and prioritize corrective action. 

Here are the six action items to implement a process of hazard recognition and identification in your workplace.

1. Collect existing information about workplace hazards

Collect information about hazards

You can find information about hazards in your workplace from both internal and external sources. After collecting this information, you must review it with employees in order to identify which types of hazards may be present. 

Where to collect internal hazard information:
  • 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, process safety management, 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

Where to collect external hazard information:

2. Inspect the Workplace for Safety Hazards

A man performs lockout-tagout inspections

It's important to perform regularly scheduled inspections because the workplace can change over time, creating opportunities for hazards.

Processes change, equipment becomes worn, and maintenance is neglected – it's the nature of the job! You can identify shortcomings with regular inspections and hopefully address a hazard prior to an incident. 

Tips for inspection:

  • 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:
  • 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.

3. Identify Health Hazards

Identify health hazards in the workplace

Health hazards include chemical, physical, biological, and ergonomic hazards. Some of these hazards can be more difficult to identify, such as invisible and odorless gases and vapors.

Steps to identify health hazards:

  • Identify chemical hazards – review 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 – identify 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 – 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 – examine work activities that require heavy lifting, work above shoulder height, repetitive motions, or tasks with significant vibration.
  • Conduct quantitative exposure assessments – 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.

4. Conduct Incident Investigations

Conduct Incident Investigations

When incidents do happen, it's important to get all the details in order to identify where hazards exist and prevent it from happening again. The purpose of the investigation must always be to identify the root cause of the incident.

Steps to conduct an incident investigation:

  • 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:
    • Who will be involved
    • Lines of communication
    • Materials, equipment, and supplies needed
    • Reporting forms and templates
  • Train investigative 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.

5. Identify Hazards Associated with Emergency and Non-Routine Situations

Have a plan for emergency and non-routine scenarios

Even infrequent tasks come with a risk of hazards, and your team must understand and recognize them. Be sure to develop procedures for hazards associated with foreseeable emergency scenarios and non-routine situations.

Have a plan for emergency and non-routine scenarios:
  • Fires and explosions
  • Chemical releases
  • Hazardous material spills
  • Startups after planned or unplanned equipment shutdowns
  • Nonroutine tasks, such as infrequently performed maintenance activities
  • Structural collapse
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Weather emergencies and natural disasters
  • Medical emergencies
  • Workplace violence

6. Characterize the Nature of Hazards, Identify Interim Control Measures, and Prioritize the Hazards for Control

Prioritize hazards for control

Once you assess and understand potential hazards, you must next identify the potential incidents that could result. Then, develop interim controls and prioritize hazards for permanent control.

Next steps:

  • 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. Note, however, that employers have an ongoing obligation to control all serious recognized hazards and to protect workers.

Learn More About Construction Safety 

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