Understanding Hazards, Outcomes, and Controls in the Workplace

Introduction

In any work environment, safety should always be a top priority. Understanding the concepts of hazards, outcomes, and controls is essential for maintaining a safe workplace. By identifying hazards, predicting potential outcomes, and implementing appropriate controls, employees can mitigate risks and ensure their own safety and that of their colleagues. Let’s look into each of these concepts and explore how they apply in the workplace.

Hazards: Identifying Potential Risks

A hazard is any source, situation, or act with the potential to cause harm or adverse health effects. Hazards can manifest in various forms, including physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic, and psychosocial. Recognizing hazards is the first step in preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace. While conducting a hazard assessment in the workplace, this is where we see the biggest error. Many individuals complete the assessment by capturing the outcome as the hazard.

Some common examples of misidentification are:

Outcomes: Predicting Potential Consequences

Outcomes refer to the possible results or consequences that may arise from exposure to hazards. Understanding potential outcomes allows employees to assess the severity of risks and take appropriate precautions to prevent accidents or injuries. As mentioned above if we were to attempt to develop controls for the outcome, they may be too general and could overlook the true hazard that could be left uncontrolled.

Other examples of misidentification include:

  • “Pinch Points” Identify what is creating the pinch point situation such as moving equipment, suspended loads, etc.
  • “Cuts” or “Personal Injuries” Identify what object or activity would create the injury such as handling a cut edge of sheet metal or performing pipe crimping.
  • “Personal Illness” such as “Inhaling Toxins” Identify what substance is creating the condition such as carbon monoxide, sealants, etc.

Controls: Reducing Exposure and Mitigating Consequence

Controls are measures implemented to eliminate or minimize exposure to hazards and prevent adverse outcomes. There are various types of controls, including elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hierarchy of hazard controls

The hierarchy of hazard controls provides a systematic approach to minimizing or reducing workplace hazards. This hierarchy ranks controls based on their effectiveness, from the most potent level of protection to the least effective. Here are the key components:

Elimination:

Elimination involves removing the hazard entirely from the workplace. It is the most effective way to control risk because it eradicates the hazard.

Examples:

  • Purchasing equipment that is not noisy.
  • Using a reach pole for window washing (to eliminate working from heights).
  • Properly disposing of unused products stored in the workplace.

Substitution:

When elimination is not possible, substitution comes into play. It entails replacing a hazardous substance or process with a less hazardous alternative.

Considerations:

  • Assess the hazards and risks associated with the alternative.
  • Ensure that the new hazard is genuinely lower than the original one.

Engineering Controls:

These controls modify the workplace environment or processes to reduce or prevent hazards from affecting workers.

Examples:

  • Installing machine guards to prevent contact with moving parts.
  • Ventilation systems to remove harmful fumes.
  • Noise barriers to reduce sound exposure.

Administrative Controls:

Administrative controls establish work practices and procedures to minimize exposure to hazards.

Examples:

  • Rotating tasks to limit prolonged exposure.
  • Implementing safe work procedures.
  • Providing training and awareness programs.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

PPE includes gear worn by workers to protect against specific hazards.

Examples:

  • Safety helmets.
  • Gloves.
  • Goggles.
  • Respirators.

Remember, when selecting a control method, start from the top of the inverted pyramid (elimination) and work your way down. The goal is to identify the hazard that will provide the most protection and/or as many controls as needed to adequately protect workers from the hazard.

Scenario:

Let’s take a moment to use the common “slips, trips, and falls” scenario to talk our way through this. With this example, there is a tendency for individuals to look at this scenario and identify the hazard as being “slips, trips, or falls”.

Hazard: Slips, Trips, Falls

But considering that a hazard is “A situation, condition, or object that may be dangerous to health and safety” is it accurate to say the hazard is a slip, trip, or fall?…

No.

To say that, is to describe an outcome which is “What could happen if the hazard is not adequately and specifically controlled”. Potential outcomes are the results of an inadequately controlled hazard. In this case we would identify the hazard as an ice-covered surface or walkway, that may result in the outcome of a slip and fall.

Hazard: Ice-covered surface or walkway

Outcome: Slip and Fall

Specifically naming the hazard allows for the development of specific controls, which in this case could include spreading of ice melt, ensuring proper footwear is being worn, and providing additional and hazard specific PPE in the form of traction cleats.

Controls:

  • Spreading of ice melt.
  • Ensuring proper footwear is being worn.
  • Providing hazard specific PPE in the form of traction cleats.

So, be specific and identify what actually needs to be used or implemented to control the hazard. Writing things like “Housekeeping” or “PPE” are not sufficient.

Conclusion:

By distinguishing between hazards, outcomes, and controls, employees can play an active role in supporting a safe and healthy work environment. Identifying hazards allows for proactive risk management, while predicting potential outcomes enables individuals to take preventive measures. Implementing appropriate controls ensures that the workplace remains safe for everyone.

Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility. By staying vigilant, following established protocols, and communicating effectively, employees can contribute to a culture of safety where hazards are minimized, and everyone can thrive in their respective roles.