What is Hazard Identification?
Hazard identification is an important part of workplace safety and includes recognizing when a hazard exists and then finding ways to eliminate and control that hazard. Through hazard identification and control, you can decrease workplace accidents. Prevention is key because when you recognize and control hazards, fewer incidents will likely occur. Prevention is the goal of hazard identification.
Hazardous Conditions and Unsafe Acts
Hazardous conditions and unsafe acts can cause workplace accidents and injuries. Most often, these incidents are caused by a combination of the two. A hazardous condition can be anything in a workplace that could potentially harm you. An unsafe act is a behavior where an individual deviates from a recognized, safe way of doing a job.
Identifying hazardous conditions is sometimes hard to recognize, so we recommend that you take a systematic approach. Some hazardous categories include:

  • Physical hazards – potential for a fall, getting struck by something, crushed, burned, electrocuted
  • Ergonomic hazards – frequent lifting, awkward movements, repetitive motions, vibration
  • Chemical hazards – hazardous materials (HazMats), flammables, cleaning products
  • Psychosocial hazards – stress, violence, etc.
  • Biological hazards – viruses, bacteria, mold, insects, parasites

These hazardous conditions become even more dangerous when combined with unsafe acts. Unsafe acts may be habit forming and have ramifications. Possible ramifications may be immediate or delayed. At work, the consequences of unsafe acts don’t always occur immediately. One common thought is that you may save time and no negative consequence will surface, so you get away with a shortcut. The problem with this way of thinking is that every time we take a shortcut, we come a little closer to an incident. Examples include removing a machine guard and not getting fingers caught or standing on the top of a step ladder and not falling, etc.
Tools for Identifying Hazards
There are four tools to help with hazard recognition: risk assessments, job hazard analysis (JHA), pre-inspections, and safe work permits.
Risk assessments have become an increasingly important tool for controlling workplace injuries. Completing a risk assessment involves identifying individual hazards associated with a work task, ranking the likelihood that the hazard could cause injury, and determining the potential severity of the injury. The last step involves identifying actions for improved controls to reduce injury risk.
Job hazard analysis (JHA) is a procedure that breaks down specific job tasks and identifies potential hazards and controls to figure out the safest way to perform the job. For more information about how to fill one out, review the JHA topic guide here.
Pre-shift and pre-task inspections are detailed checklists that are developed to identify job and equipment hazards so they’re in the forefront of workers’ minds.
Safe work permits, also known as permits to work, are documents that describe the work to be performed, what the hazards are, precautions, and authorizations. A safe work permit is a written record that authorizes specific work at a specific location at a specific time and usually requires a supervisor’s signature.
Real-Time Hazard Recognition
When you start your workday, think about hazards that may be present. Try to spot the physical, ergonomic, chemical, psychosocial, or biological hazards. Below are some questions to ask yourself when looking for hazards:

  • What forms of energy are present?
  • What tasks do I have that require lifting?
  • What hazardous chemicals am I using?
  • What equipment or tools am I using? Are they the best tools for the job? Are they in good working order?
  • Could my emotional state lead to unsafe practices?
  • What objects could hit me?
  • What is unguarded?
  • Where could I slip and fall?

Controlling or Eliminating the Hazard
After identifying a hazard, you need to act. Take the necessary steps to eliminate or control the hazard. When you see an unsafe condition, change the surroundings to make it safe again. When you see an unsafe act, bring it to the person’s attention. Help them understand why what they are doing is unsafe, that they could get injured, or they could injure someone else.
Use the hierarchy of controls when determining how to reduce risks. The hierarchy of controls is a method of protecting workers by use of elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment. Review WCF’s hierarchy of controls topic guide here for additional information.
Accident investigation
Accident investigation is another process that can be used to identify hazards. Thorough accident investigation can help to determine the root causes of incidents and near misses to prevent them from occurring in the future.