Workplace safety is all about identifying and addressing risks. According to OSHA, one of the root causes of workplace injuries, illnesses and incidents is the failure to identify or recognize hazards that are present, or that could have been anticipated. While every job and task in the workplace comes with its own set of risks, taking the time to properly assess these risks can help you address them and prevent associated injuries.
Use these member resources to learn the steps for conducting a risk assessment and how to implement a program to prevent injuries in yourself and others:
Webinar I Presentation I Mini Guide: English and Spanish I Template I Tip Sheet: English and Spanish I 2-Minute Video
According to InjuryFacts, more than 4 million work-related medically consulted injuries are reported each year. Learning more about present or anticipated risks can help your workforce avoid them and prevent injuries. Though every workplace is different, many workers face risks that can be categorized into four types of common hazards:
● Chemical. Includes inhaling, ingesting or having your skin come into contact with some kind of chemical substance, like cleaning supplies, solvents, gasoline, pesticides, etc.
● Physical. Includes slipping or falling, being struck by or against something, or being exposed to fire or electrical hazards, as well as being exposed to temperature extremes or loud noises
● Biological. Includes exposure to bloodborne pathogens, molds, wastewater, plant or insect poisons, bird or bat droppings, and even bacteria and viruses
● Ergonomic. Includes working in an awkward posture, repetitive work, forceful exertions or work station design
Not every workplace faces risks from every category, but conducting job safety analyses can help you understand the risks most likely to create hazards for your workforce. This NSC template can help you assess risks before they lead to an injury, and this safety talk can help you introduce this process to your workforce. You can also register for NSC courses to learn more and develop your risk assessment skills. NSC members get a 20% discount on these essential courses:
● Effective Safety Management Practices II
Understanding the risks is a crucial first step, but taking action is key to preventing injuries. While most risks can be categorized into these four categories, the solutions for them are often more specific. Help your workforce understand these risks and the steps they can take to address them:
Chemical: Know the location of your Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and read them to ensure you understand how to safely use the chemical, what PPE is needed and what to do in case of an emergency. Only use chemicals for their intended purposes, wash your hands carefully after using them (even if you were wearing PPE while handling them), and do not use a chemical if the label is missing or the cap is damaged.
Physical: Always clean up spills immediately, keep drawers closed when not in use, and keep cords taped down and out of walkways. Be sure to check for frayed, cracked or exposed wiring on equipment cords and only plug power equipment into wall outlets with power switches in the “off” position. You should also be trained on using fall protection and fall-arrest systems required for your work, and always maintain three points of contact when climbing a ladder.
Biological: Treat every situation involving blood or other bodily fluids as high risk and potentially dangerous, and wear PPE when responding to situations involving biohazards, including gloves, facemasks and/or face shields, and respirators if needed. Be sure you know how to properly clean up biohazard situations, how to properly dispose of biohazards and where exposure can occur, such as during demolition, renovation, sewer work, HVAC work and other types of construction work.
Ergonomic: Ensure your work station is adjusted to fit your physical needs, maintain good housekeeping and never ignore pain. Vary your workday to space out different types of tasks, refrain from carrying items that are too heavy and inform your supervisor immediately if you experience ergonomic discomfort on the job.
Not all of these risks and tips apply to every job, but it’s important for your workforce to stay aware of the hazards unique to their tasks. Let your employees know: You are the expert of your job, your workstation, your routines and tools. Learn more about common solutions and never be afraid to report a risk when you see one.
Whether or not you view your workplace as particularly “risky,” dangers are often there. From a burnt-out lightbulb to extreme temperatures, it can be easy to overlook these hazards, or worse, get used to them and become complacent. Overlooking common hazards can create risks for your entire workforce, but everyone can make a difference by prioritizing safety. The more you learn to see risks in the workplace, the more you can be a safety lookout to prevent injuries to yourself or your co-workers.
Whether it’s telling your supervisor, maintenance team, safety committee or sharing in a designated reporting system, it’s best to report hazards as soon as they are noticed. Don’t assume that someone else has seen and reported it already, even if it seems obvious to you. It’s better to have multiple reports on the same hazard than none at all.
If an incident or near miss occurs in your workplace, be sure to participate in the incident investigation process. This allows the safety team to identify the root causes and is a great way to find all of the potential hazards that may have contributed. Getting down to this level of detail also helps the safety team figure out the best way to stop the hazards from occurring again.
The same types of hazards at work can also occur at home, so consider yourself the safety manager of your home. Have your loved ones come to you with safety issues so they can be fixed before someone gets hurt. Hazards will always be there, but if we recognize them and address them, we can keep each other safe.