Accidents and incidents in the workplace account for more than 500,000 injuries every year in Australia according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with around 190 ending in a fatality (Safe for Work Australia, 2017 statistics).
The statistics also show, however, that workplace injuries are at an all-time low and are further decreasing every year. That decrease is due to better awareness and identification of hazards in the workplace by staff, enabling employers and employees to mitigate risk factors before an incident occurs, in combination with greater regulatory controls. But there is always more that can be done.
What is a Workplace Hazard?
Before you can identify and work toward preventing the hazards in the workplace, you have to know what you’re looking for. Hazards come in many shapes, some more serious than others, and will vary depending on the working environment. Workplace hazards can be grouped into six categories.
These are hazards that should be completely removed from the workplace. They are core safety issues such as unsecured cords, worn cabling, or unguarded heights.
Physical hazards are hazards that can cause harm without the worker coming into direct contact with the hazard. Issues such as high noise levels, extreme temperatures, or radiation fall into this category.
Biological hazards are created by exposure to any biological agents that may result in injury or disease. These will be especially prevalent when working in the healthcare industries, but should not be ignored in any workplace. Hazards in this category are factors such as bacteria, bodily fluids, viruses, human or animal waste, or insect bites.
Chemical hazards are hazards created by the handling or exposure of chemical agents. These could be directly due to the handling of the chemicals, due to vapours, or fire risk.
Ergonomic hazards are risks that may not cause immediate injury but can cause long-term problems. Incorrect seating or desk heights, excessive vibrations, regular heavy lifting, or similar issues are possible things to look out for here.
Working environment hazards are mostly mental health issues that may result from factors in the workplace. Stress due to work demands, harassment, and workplace respect all fit into this category.
How to Identify and Prevent a Hazard?
Now that you know the types of hazards that may be present in the workplace, how do you go about identifying them and preventing them? Identifying and preventing hazards doesn’t happen with a single act. In order to protect your workplace and staff to the fullest, it’s crucial to implement and follow through with a workplace safety plan.
Develop a Plan
The first step in preventing hazards is to identify them, and the first step in identifying the hazards is to develop a plan that can be implemented and followed consistently.
Information that may already be available can help to highlight the hazards and risks associated with features in your workplace. This could include instruction and operating manuals for machinery, chemical safety data sheets (SDS), or simply reviewing warning labels and signage.
It’s likely that your workplace has already suffered accidents in the past. Even if these were small and didn’t result in injuries they can provide valuable insights into the type of hazards that may be present in your workplace.
Analysing prior incident reports, workers compensation claims, results of analysis and reports in both your workplace and related industries can be all excellent ways of collecting information on hazards that are already known.
Collecting information on incidents when they occur will help to build a profile of the types of hazards and risks that are present in your workplace. Reports should document the type of incident, any injuries that were suffered, the contributing hazards or risk factors, and any action that will be taken in the future to mitigate them.
Reporting reactively can only go so far in protecting the workplace. Proactive and regular assessment of the workplace, for instance with weekly walkthroughs, will help to flag both existing and newly developed hazards.
This is especially important in industries where the management may not be regularly present in the primary workplace with the highest risk factors, e.g. construction or factory settings. The staff who experience the hazards will likely be the first to notice them. Provide systems to collect and act on quality feedback from staff.
The Importance of Identifying Hazards
Accidents and incidents in the workplace account for hundreds of thousands of injuries and fatalities every year. Identifying hazards is the first step in removing or mitigating risks, and mitigating risks prevents injuries.
Injury and Fatality Prevention
The most obvious of the reasons why identifying hazards in the workplace is important. It’s impossible to remove or mitigate something you are unaware of; once the hazards have been identified they can be handled properly, reducing or eliminating the risk of injury or death.
Working towards a safer working environment should be a goal of all companies, regardless of size or industry. A proactive and responsible stance on hazard identification and mitigation is the reason the statistics for work-related injuries or fatalities are at their lowest point ever.
Additionally, being a responsible employer by taking an active role in worker safety by reducing hazards will reflect better on the company both in the market and community.
Downtime and Costs
Accidents invariably cause downtime in any workplace environment. Paperwork, clean-up, production restarts — lots of factors can cause downtime when an accident that was preventable by hazard awareness occurs. And that’s assuming nobody was injured. Injuries that result from an accident can cause further short-term and long-term downtime in productivity. There is also the likelihood of increased running costs when having to hire and train temporary replacement workers to cover staff members that require time off for injury recovery.
The Work Health and Safety Act for Australia makes it the legal responsibility of every employer to ensure that their staff are working in the safest environment possible. Employers must legally take a proactive role in identifying, reporting, and taking steps to mitigate hazards. Non-compliance can result in stiff financial penalties for offending employers, and in the case of fatalities possibly criminal prosecution.
While not directly related to hazard identification and prevention itself, analysis of the workplace, its processes, and the risks associated with them can help to reveal ways that efficiency can be improved.
Even with the most thorough and detailed hazard identification and prevention techniques accidents and incidents will still occur in the workplace. Being aware of the hazards and the risks associated, will help to keep them at a minimum and hopefully help to prevent related injuries.
To learn more about safety in the workplace and how you can keep your employees safe, contact Conserve today.
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