How to properly identify and analyze hazards in your workplace

How to properly identify and analyze hazards in your workplace

Written by Dina Adlouni

Published May 15, 2024

One of the most fundamental parts of any health and safety professional’s job is to properly identify and analyze hazards in the workplace – just ask Harry! Harry has been a Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) manager on a construction site for the past ten years. His main priority? Keeping employees and external contractors safe from hazards and risks that might arise on the job.  

But just how does he do this effectively? With his years of experience, he has learned to be on the lookout for specific elements, while following a set of steps.  

Keep reading to explore: 

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What is a hazard in the workplace

First, let’s start at the beginning – what is a hazard in the workplace? This includes anything that may have the potential to cause injury or illness to an individual on site. Hazards can come in many different forms, so it’s important to be aware of the different types of hazards that could occur in the workplace. 

The most common include: diagram showing 4 types of hazards

Types of hazards in the workplace

Let’s dive a little deeper into these types of hazards in the workplace. As an HSE manager, Harry has to be on top of any and all hazards on the construction site like the presence of asbestos, unstable scaffolding, falling debris, and much more.   

It’s important to be aware of what each type of hazard could entail to properly reduce the potential of injury or illness. 

Physical hazards: Physical hazards entail anything that can physically harm a person. This can include things like harsh weather, indoor air quality, and radiation.  

Safety hazards: Safety hazards are related to elements found on site, such as machinery, equipment, and electricity. Other safety hazards may result in slips, trips, and falls, one of the most common causes of injury at the workplace.  

Chemical Hazards: Harmful chemicals and gases in the workplace can result in chemical hazards, leading to injury or illness. This is why it’s so crucial to have up-to-date safety data sheets that are easily accessible.  

Ergonomic hazards: Different movements made to complete job tasks could result in ergonomic hazards and injuries. Think of things like heavy lifting or poor posture.  

Your guide to hazard identification and analysis

Now that you know the most common types of hazards found in the workplace, it’s time to take action through proper hazard identification and analysis, also known as a hazard assessment. This is the best way to protect your employees and create a safer place to work. 

So, what does a hazard assessment entail? We’ve broken the process down into different steps: 

1. Identify potential hazards

The first part of the process is identifying potential hazards around your workplace. This can be done in a multitude of ways, knowing what the most common types of hazards are. For instance, you can start by collecting all existing data about hazards found on site. These can be found in previous hazard assessments and inspections conducted, and by looking at data such as your lost time injury rates (LTIs) or Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) to get a better understanding of the root cause of incidents and injuries on site.  

Make sure all types of equipment on site are up to compliance standards and are functioning properly to avoid certain safety hazards. You should also identify all chemicals used by employees and make sure they’re properly labeled with corresponding safety data sheets to avoid chemical hazards.  

Walk around the worksite and be on the lookout for any hazards that might result in slips, trips, and falls. Even though hazard assessments should be carried out by experienced members of management teams, it's important to work closely with employees to gain greater insight into potential hazards faced on a day-to-day basis. Close collaboration between management and the workforce is a key part of conducting a thorough hazard assessment to uncover all potential threats on site.  

Another great way to identify potential hazards is by conducting a job hazard analysis. This entails dissecting each part of a job task and considering what risks and hazards are associated at every step. This includes ergonomic risks, as well as risks related to the type of equipment or machinery used. 

Click here to gain a clearer view of the risks in your organization

2. Assess levels of risk to prioritize areas of concern

Once you identify all potential hazards, it’s time to assess the level of risk associated with each so you can prioritize areas of concern. How is this done? Many organizations use a risk matrix to establish how severe a potential threat might be by looking at how likely it is to occur and the severity of the risk. Below is an example of a 5x5 risk matrix: 

table showing risk matrix levels

As you can see, numbers range from 1 to 5 to establish the impact of the hazard as well as the likelihood of its occurrence. The color coding highlights the level of risk of each hazard, with green being the least risky and red being the most critical. The numbers within the boxes display the probability of something occurring multiplied by the severity. For example, severe cases of 25 are calculated by taking the highest probability of something happening and severity level and multiplying them: 5 x 5 = 25.  

This overview helps you establish a risk level for each hazard so you can begin to prioritize areas of concern. Don’t forget to think about who might be affected or harmed by a hazard, how to best mitigate it, and a timeline of corrective action completion.  

3. Implement corrective actions

Now it’s time to implement corrective actions to mitigate hazards and risks. One of the best ways to do this is by following the hierarchy of controls: 

diagram hierarchy of control

Control methods displayed here are organized from most effective to least effective. The most effective way is completely eliminating the hazard. Usually, this is hard to do, so you might consider the next best thing which is substituting or replacing the hazard with something not as dangerous. For example, if you find that a chemical on site can cause harm to employees who are exposed to it, try replacing it with another substance that is still effective and not as dangerous. 

If that’s not possible, you might use engineering controls to help distance people from the hazard. This could include machine guards, railing systems when working at heights, and more. If this isn’t possible, you might resort to administrative controls. This includes putting up signs or hazard symbols to warn workers of the hazard, implementing new training or processes, and more.  

Finally, the least effective way of controlling hazards is with personal protective equipment (PPE). It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide the workforce with effective PPE to help protect them while working on-site. 

4. Document your findings

With all hazards identified, analyzed, and controlled, it’s time to document your findings. This includes things such as: 

  • Hazards identified  
  • Who may be exposed or affected  
  • Corrective actions implemented and a timeline for each 
  • Key stakeholders in the process 

This is crucial so your organization can have a record of such elements so you can begin to analyze your results to find specific trends and patterns. This can help you create a more proactive approach to safety rather than a reactive approach as you begin to notice key areas of deficiencies.  

Documenting your findings is also important when it comes to compliance with specific regulations. If an auditor requests proof of this information, you can easily show your records. It’s also important in the case of an incident or near-miss, to show that you have carried out all the steps necessary to mitigate risks.  

5. Review this process on a regular basis

This process is never fully complete, as you should always review the controls you have implemented to make sure they are still effective. Think of your hazard assessments as an ever-evolving process to help create a safer work environment.  

This process is usually repeated at a regular cadence that suits the organization and when there is a change in process, equipment, or employee. And if there are certain deficiencies in the way you conduct your hazard assessment, don’t hesitate to modify them over time to capture the data that’s right for your organization’s safety goals.  

What now?

Keeping your workforce safe is a big responsibility. Just ask Harry! That’s why we want to help. EcoOnline's risk assessment module, within our EHS solution, can help you streamline your approach! How does it work? Easily digitize and centralize all your risk assessments so they are easily accessible to key stakeholders.  

Forget time-consuming, paper or Excel-based processes and standardize your approach by going digital! Easily create, share, and edit your risk assessments, set up automated notifications for specific reminders, and easily assign tasks and corrective actions. It’s that simple! Want to find out more?  

Explore EcoOnline's risk assessment software


Author Dina Adlouni

Dina is a Content Marketing Manager at EcoOnline. She has been a content writer for eight years and has been writing about health and safety for the past three years. 

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