A hazard is any situation, substance, activity, event or environment that could potentially cause an injury or illness. Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that workers are not exposed to the risk of work-related harm.

To do this, you must carry out a risk management process that consists of four parts:

  1. Identify hazards in your workplace.
  2. Assess their potential to cause harm, i.e. conduct a risk assessment.
  3. Control the risk by eliminating the hazard, or, if elimination is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk using one or more controls.
  4. Monitor the hazards and review the controls to ensure they are minimising the risks effectively.

Hazard identification is the first step in the risk management process. Hazard identification is the range of processes used to identify hazards in the workplace. The most common workplace hazards are those related to:

  • the working environment, e.g. an uneven or slippery floor, high noise levels, extremes of temperature or poor ventilation;
  • stress;
  • machinery and equipment;
  • over-exertion;
  • fire;
  • electricity;
  • toxic or poisonous chemicals;
  • biological waste;
  • confined spaces;
  • manual handling, e.g. pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting and restraining or repetitive tasks;
  • airborne contaminants, e.g. fumes, dust, vapours, and smoke;
  • working at heights or over depth, e.g. over an open mine or trench; and
  • exposure to UV radiation.

Hazards are not all physical. They may cause an increased risk of psychological illness (e.g. bullying, harassment, excessive workload or lack of support), all of which can lead to long-term harm among workers.

You have an obligation under health and safety legislation to be proactive in your efforts to identify, assess, and control risks in your workplace before they cause an injury or incident. It is not enough to simply react to hazards that have already caused an incident, whether or not actual harm has resulted.

How to undertake hazard identification

To carry out effective hazard identification at your workplace, ensure that you carefully inspect your workplace while consulting with workers about health and safety concerns, and regularly review relevant safety information.

Regularly inspect your workplace (every day if possible) by performing site visits to observe workers and the workplace. Schedule onsite inspections at different times of the day to ensure you observe workplace activities at all relevant times.

While conducting the workplace inspections, check how work is actually being performed. Is equipment being used properly? Are procedures being followed correctly? Are workers wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE)? Are any hazardous chemicals or substances present? Are all necessary control measures in place?

Are there any other factors likely to cause a risk?

If you identify a hazard that could cause immediate or significant risk of injury or illness, move everyone in the surrounding area to a safer location first and attend to the hazard urgently.

Make a list of all the hazards you find, including the ones you know are already being dealt with. This way you can be sure all hazards have been identified and that nothing is missed.

Ask your workers about any health and safety issues they may have noticed in the workplace, e.g. another worker not following safe operating procedures correctly. Put reporting procedures in place so that workers can voice their concerns or have your workers complete anonymous surveys.

Workers should report all incidents, even if no actual harm resulted (often called a ‘near miss’).

Review the safety information you have gathered in your business on a regular basis, including: incident and near miss reports; complaints or suggestions about health and safety; sick leave records and the results of any inspections and investigations.

Reviewing this information can provide you with clues about areas in your workplace where there may be gaps in your safety systems.

Obtain information and advice about any hazards or risks relevant to the nature of your business and ensure you stay up-to-date about developments in your industry. You can find this information through regulators, industry associations, experts and safety consultants, and the Health & Safety Handbook.

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