Hazard recognition is one of the most critical aspects of occupational safety. In fact, OSHA says that "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."
The idea that hazard identification/recognition is important to safety is a common one. And following from this, you'll often see people within the safety industry saying it's important to train workers on how to identify hazards at work. But what you don't see quite as often as those first two is any guidance on how to effectively train workers to identify hazards at their workplace. That's what we're hoping to help you with a little bit in this article.
By the way, this article was written to parallel the National Safety Council's National Safety Month (June, 2019) and its first-week emphasis on hazard recognition training. You can learn more about National Safety Month and even download some materials related to hazard recognition from the NSC here.
It's probably a good idea to start with a definition of the word "hazard." This OSHA document explains that "Hazard refers to an inherent property of a substance that is capable of causing an adverse effect. "
That's pretty academic, though. So we can rephase that a bit and say that a hazard is something that can cause harm in one way or another--a fatality, an injury, and illness, property damage, damage to the environment, and so on.
Once an employee knows what a hazard is, a logical next step would be to help the employee learn the types of hazards that might exist in a workplace.
Types of hazards workers might confront at work include:
Giving examples of each of these types of hazards can help the employee better understand hazards and will prepare the employee to be better at hazard identification.
Read more about this in our What Is Industrial Hygiene? article.
But knowing what a hazard is in general terms, and knowing the types of hazards one might face in a work area, isn't all there is to hazard identification training. In fact, if your entire hazard identification training program includes nothing but the first two hazard ID training steps above, the employees you're training most likely will not become effective hazard identifiers.
In training, knowledge is never enough. It's a necessary pre-condition in many situations, but there's always more. And that "more" is application. In particular, demonstrations, practice, and feedback from an experienced teacher.
So you're going to want to give employees a chance to practice hazard identification. How can you do this? You can set up something in a work area. You can use scenario-based learning, perhaps involving virtual reality. There are lots of ways. But the important thing to remember is you want to give employees a chance to practice this new skill of hazard identification. To see which hazards they're correctly identifying and which they're not. And to get feedback about how they're doing.
That's the basic idea behind OSHA's Hazard Identification Training Tool (go ahead, check it out, we'll wait here until you get back).
If you'd like to learn how to help workers truly develop hazard identification/recognition expertise, check our blog article on deliberate practice and use those techniques in your hazard identification training.
Once a hazard has been identified at your workplace, it's time to control the hazard so no harm takes place.
The standard way to begin doing this is by using the hierarchy of controls. The basic idea of the hierarchy of controls is that you try to use higher-level controls, such as elimination and substitution, before you try to use lower-level controls, such as PPE.
For more information, check our article on the hierarchy of controls.
You might also wonder how to prioritize your efforts--which hazards to control first. We address this issue in more detail in this article on risk management and occupational safety and health.
For more information on hazard identification and hazard identification training, check these additional resources:
Hazard identification is definitely an essential skill for all workers (and safety professionals) to have. But it's important to remember that we're not born with this skill. It's rarely something an employee has when he or she is hired. And a person doesn't become skillful in hazard recognition simply by knowing what hazards are. You've got to train to become proficient at this.
We hope this article has raised awareness of the need to train to develop hazard ID skills, and we hope we've given you some tips of how to structure your hazard identification training program. If you have any other questions, please let us know.