Hazard Identification

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Hazard Identification

A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm — whether to people, property or the environment.

Employers have to take active steps to make sure that any hazards present in their stores are noted, evaluated, controlled and communicated to all staff. Workers need to help in this process by being aware and by reporting anything they see as a potential source of harm. Please see the section on Rights and Responsibilities for more information.

This module will help you to identify hazards in your location. The module on Hazard Evaluation and Control explains how to prioritize and manage them.

What Kinds of Hazards are There?

When we think of hazards the first things that come to mind are safety hazards that can cause immediate bodily injury. Slipping, tripping, getting caught in machinery, or getting cut by sharp objects are some examples. However, it's important to consider health hazards as well – things that can cause disease and cumulative, long-term harm.

Health and safety hazards are usually classified by the kind of effect they could have – ergonomic, psychosocial, biological, or chemical to name a few. Here are some examples:

Staff working at the cash desk have been complaining that their necks are getting sore from always having to look sideways out the window.

  • This is an ergonomic hazard because the effect is physical pain caused by moving in uncomfortable ways. This could result in long-term chronic conditions. The solution could be to rearrange the cash desk so that people don’t have to move this way anymore. For more information on preventing these kinds of injuries, please see the module on Injury Prevention.

There is one customer who keeps coming into the store and bothering the staff. He is rude and puts people down. He hasn’t been physically violent, but he does yell and get abusive.

  • This situation is a psychosocial hazard because this person’s behavior can affect your staff’s emotional and mental health and, if the customer gets physically violent, their physical health as well. The solution would depend on the situation, but giving staff good training on Violence Prevention could be one approach.

Every now and then, someone finds a used needle when they’re cleaning the washroom.

  • Used needles are biological hazards. They can carry potentially deadly diseases and viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis. Solutions could include providing a sharps disposal container in the washroom and training staff in safely dealing with and disposing of needles. Please see the module Sharps and Biohazards for more information.

The cleaning product we have been using gives people headaches.

  • This cleaner is a chemical hazard. Chemical hazards can have a range of health effects on people, depending on the properties of the chemical. Chemicals such as propane, gasoline, solvents and even household cleaning products are some examples. Their immediate effects may be nonexistent, mild or severe. Others may seem mild at first, but have severe cumulative effects. A good, simple solution to this problem would be to replace the cleaner with another, safer product. Please see the WHMIS Module for more information.

Doing Safety Inspections

Sometimes hazards are easy to spot and have obvious solutions — like an icy stairway or a fuel spill. Other hazards are more complex, and could result in a combination of effects. For example, what could happen to staff or customers if there’s a robbery, an earthquake, or a fire?

Regardless of their complexity, it helps to be systematic. For example:

  • Do regular inspections of your store. Click here for a Sample Hazard ID Checklist to help to guide your inspection.
  • Look at the physical condition of working and public areas as well as the kinds of tasks people do
  • Look for new hazards when new equipment, chemicals or people are brought in
  • Ask workers about hazards they face
  • Look at your first aid records. If there are patterns, talk to the crew and get to the root causes
  • Pay special attention to tasks that are rarely performed, new, or otherwise unusual
  • Consider repetitive-motion tasks such as work involving computers or repetitive, constant, uninterrupted motions
  • Keep a record of hazards you find

An inspection should also include a check on whether or not staff is following instructions for working safely and dealing with any hazards that have already been found. For example:

  • Is broken equipment taken out of service and repaired promptly?
  • Are gloves being used for handling garbage?
  • Are safe lifting techniques being used?
  • Do workers know the procedures for working alone?

Evaluating and Controlling Hazards

Once hazards have been discovered, the next step employers have to take is to deal with them as quickly as possible. This means evaluating the risks associated with each situation and using this information to plan your approach to controlling them. The module on Hazard Evaluation and Control will help.

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