While the pandemic has brought mainstream attention to worker safety issues, workers and employers in many industries, such as construction, field services, manufacturing, and transportation/logistics, have long grappled with common workplace hazards. Not only do firms have a vested interest in keeping their employees safe from worksite risks, but the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) also requires them to do so.
However, despite OSHA being the law of the land for more than 50 years, some employers still lack comprehensive safety management plans that address and mitigate the risk of common workplace hazards. Without such a plan, workers (and potentially customers) may be at risk of illness or injury. Further, their employers face potentially stiff financial, legal, and reputational consequences.
What are workplace hazards?
A workplace hazard is a workplace activity or condition that creates the potential for mental or physical harm. Employers are responsible for remediating workplace hazards that they know about or should have known about and keeping a log of all workplace injuries and illnesses that have occurred at the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency is tasked with inspecting worksites to ensure that employers provide workplaces free of hazards, and it takes enforcement actions when they are not.
What are the different types of hazards?
While the Act covers specific and detailed General Industry safety standards (as well as those for the Agriculture, Maritime, and Construction industries), OSHA’s general duty clause is broader. It requires employers to ensure their worksites are “which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” While the list of hazards the Act covers is significant, they can generally be divided into the following categories:
Safety hazards are workplace activities or conditions that can result in accidents or cause injuries. The list of possible safety hazards is considerable, but common examples include employees:
- Being provided with broken mechanical or electrical equipment
- Navigating slippery or cluttered floors
- Working on insecure scaffolding or not having appropriate fall protection equipment
- Working inside buildings with a single entrance/exit or blocked fire exits
- Working schedules that are impossible to fulfill without cutting corners, among others
These workplace safety hazards can stem from exposure to dangerous materials, such as healthcare and lab workers’ exposure to infectious diseases, or a food processing employee’s exposure to animal materials, in a day’s work. However, biological hazards can also result in all workplaces from neglect, such as in mold occurrences.
Chemical hazards can also result from exposure to dangerous substances and compounds as part of a worker’s routine duties. Employers must ensure that equipment is in working order, employees are provided personal protective equipment (PPE), and that chemicals are handled in well-ventilated places, among other safety measures, to mitigate the risk of injury/illness from a worker’s exposure to chemicals. Employers are required to provide Safety Data Sheets for anyone that manages chemicals in the workplace.
Workers in certain industries often face a variety of physical hazards. Construction workers may deal with excessive noise, while manufacturing workers may face elevated temperatures. Or an employee at a nuclear plant may deal with radiation exposure. Employers must minimize the risk of employee injury from these and other types of physical hazards.
Ergonomic risk factors
Another type of hazard concerns physical activities that may result in injury. For example, a worker who must repeatedly perform heavy lifting puts themselves at risk for musculoskeletal injury, as would an employee who performs repetitive injuries. Employers should examine processes and workflows that create this type of risk and provide tools, or even automation, to minimize ergonomic risks.
How to identify hazards in the workplace
Safety-conscious employers can identify workplace hazards through regular inspections of their worksites, equipment, and operations. It’s best to document these inspections to help ensure the appropriate remediation takes place.
It’s also recommended that employers speak with frontline workers about workplace safety hazards, as they will likely identify some that managers miss. Among other areas of potential danger, employers should examine:
- Use of electrical, chemical, or biological materials and equipment
- Equipment maintenance and operation
- PPE inventory and suitability
- Work scheduling and processes
- Emergency plans and evacuation procedures
- Fire safety measures
These areas are just a sampling of workplace elements where hazardous conditions may be found. In addition to seeking input from workers, it’s also often advisable for employers to use services from third-party safety experts to help identify all potential workplace safety hazards.
How to prevent hazards in the workplace
Performing regular workplace safety inspections is one way to prevent hazardous conditions. Another tool is training. Employers should ensure that workers at all levels have the fundamental training they need to perform their duties safely and receive regular refresher training that helps keep their skills up-to-date. Further, workers should also be well-versed in their employer’s internal safety practices and procedures to help prevent hazards.
Employers should also encourage a safety-oriented workplace culture. Workers should not only have an outlet to provide health and safety-related feedback, but they should also be actively encouraged to do so. In unionized environments, formal mechanisms, such as labor-management health and safety committees, may be established by contract or past practice. However, all workplaces, union and non-union alike, should establish a mechanism for workers to identify potential hazards without fear of retaliation.
Another way to prevent workplace hazards is by establishing a workplace health and safety management plan.
The benefits of a health and safety management plan
When employers develop a comprehensive health and safety management plan, employers can greatly mitigate the risk of worksite illnesses, injuries, and deaths. They can also save themselves considerable money in the process. When a safety incident occurs at work, the company may be liable for damages from the victim/family or, if the incident stemmed from an OSHA violation, from the Agency. Employers lose the services of an employee, reducing overall productivity. And their insurance premiums may also go up as a result.
But by drafting a plan that includes provisions for workplace hazard prevention, assessment, and remediation and employee training (from leadership on down), employers can avoid high financial costs, productivity reductions, legal consequences, and bad press.
Using GoCanvas to identify hazards and ensure a safe workplace
When incorporating GoCanvas into their workplace health and safety plans, employers don’t need to rely on expensive third-party consultants for periodic assessments. Instead, they enjoy continuous access to a robust safety application that helps employers and employees collaboratively identify workplace safety hazards and incidents in real-time, reducing paperwork and saving time and money in the process. GoCanvas’ robust platform allows you to take advantage of pre-formatted forms for specific industries and use cases or build your own, tailored to your unique business.
Interested in learning more? Try GoCanvas for free or contact us for more information today.
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