Identifying hazards fully and completely is the back bone of any OH&S management system. Why? Well because, if you don’t know what your hazards are, then you don’t know what needs to be controlled.
We need to start by understanding the different hazard categories.
Chemical hazards are hazards related to the exposure (through ingestion, injection, absorption, inhalation) to chemicals. Chemicals can exist in many states, gas, liquid, solid and any combination of these.
Psychological hazards are the most overlooked and under identified of the hazards. Anything that can produce a stress, causing many other resulting medical issues. Violence, harassment, annoyances, shift work, work load and many other issues can cause us unnecessary stress.
There are many methods to identifying hazards. Job hazard analysis, job observation, job planning tools, audits can be useful in identifying the hazards in the workplace. The results may be a very long list. This long list can be daunting to some people. Typically, when the tasks and environment can change from day to day, such as a mechanic.
This is when we can look at hazards on a macro as opposed to a micro level. The micro level identification of hazards is what you would find in an assembly plant, where the tasks are the same from day to day. Breaking down each activity into steps and identifying all of the hazards is important. There will be some grouping of hazards, especially if they are common from one task to the next (i.e. air quality)
The opposite of this is macro level identification of hazards. This is when hazards are identified in general, for example, confined spaces, hazardous energies, chemical exposure. The reason to do this would be because the specifics of the job changes from day to day and the condition within which the tasks are conducted also changes. There is less work up front in identifying hazards, however, you are also required to sufficiently train all of the applicable workers in being able to identify their hazards specific to the day’s tasks and as the situation changes and know to use the correct controls.
Another thing to consider when establishing your hazard identification process is who will be involved. It can’t practically be completed by one person. Not because they are not capable, but because you want multiple inputs, experiences and biases to help identify the hazards and evaluate the risks.