What should I do when facing multiple hazards?
A hazard is defined as any practice, behavior, or physical condition that can cause injury, illness, damage to property, damage to environment, and/or loss to process. Given the breadth of this definition, it’s pretty rare to find a job with just one safety hazard present at a given time. Knowing how to manage multiple hazards effectively is key to keeping yourself safe on the job.
Though numerous hazards may be present at your worksite, begin by following the first step of the standard risk assessment practice: identify.
- Identify the hazards and find out what might cause harm
Potential hazards may fall into a number of categories:
- People-created hazards: untrained workers, lack of attention, improper techniques
- Equipment hazards: exposure to moving parts, poor maintenance, using improper equipment
- Material hazards: sharp objects, hazardous materials, unsecured loads
- Work environment hazards: walking surfaces, airborne contaminants, heat stress or cold (learn more about material and environment hazards in Dangerous Goods Awareness)
- Process hazards: workplace or job design, ergonomic conditions, blind corners
Once you’ve pinpointed the source of each hazard, you need to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself: How can these hazards interact with each other to produce new or greater risks?
Perhaps you’ve identified sparks and combustible gas as independent hazards to workers. If those hazards interact, however, you could have a fire or explosion on your hands. Conducting a risk assessment can help you understand the various possibilities so you can manage them properly. Do this by following the remaining three steps: assess, control, and review.
- Assess the risks to understand the nature, seriousness, and likelihood of the harm
- Control the risks by implementing the most effective measures reasonably practical in the circumstances
- Review the measures to ensure they are working as planned
Remember to include employees in this process. In order to effectively protect themselves from multiple hazards, they must fully understand what the hazards are and how they work together to produce even greater risk (read more about getting employees involved in safety in Workplace Safety Culture 101).
By looking at the whole picture and taking every risk into account, you can protect your company and your employees from an unexpected disaster.
Written by Jessica Barrett
Jessica is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. She specializes in creating content for nonprofits and has written for organizations working in human rights, conservation, education, and health care. She loves traveling and food, speaks Spanish, and has two dogs, one of whom she rescued while living in Mexico.
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