Step 1: Identify the Hazards

5 Steps of Risk Assessment: Step 1 is to ‘Identify the Hazards’, but how do we do it? Watch our video lesson for some ideas on how to do this in any workplace environment. Once you’ve completed the video, we’ll have a go at spotting Hazards!

Want to recap on any of the information covered in the video? Watch it again or read the supporting information below

Step 1: Identify the Hazards – Supporting Information

1. Walk around

First of all, a very obvious one, just walk around. Go out and identify activities, processes & substances that can actually cause injury or ill health to employees. That’s a useful starting point. You gotta get out there and get your hands dirty, so to speak. It will give you a good idea of the scope and how much detail you’re going to need to get into.

You will have to bear in mind that you’re only really taking a snapshot at a certain point in time. So you may miss things that aren’t happening on an ongoing basis. Make sure to have a good rummage around. Look in places that aren’t so obvious.

People have a very good knack of putting equipment that maybe isn’t used often in places where you can’t see it. And even stuff that shouldn’t be used as well! Give yourself enough time to look in the places that are normally blind to you.

2. Observe the Work

The second is simply observation of specific work activities. This is something that may take some time depending on what you’re dealing with. You will want to make sure that you’re watching a full cycle of work or even multiple cycles of work, if necessary.

You might want to look at different people doing the same task, for example, because that can be really useful to see the variation of how the work is actually performed and undertaken. From that, you can use it to help you identify any hazards that might exist. Either from the way it is meant to be done or the way it is being done (might not be the same thing!).

3. Actively Engage

Thirdly, part and parcel of the observation process should be to speak to your employees. Get engaged with your employees, ask them to explain after their experience of the process after (or before) you’ve observed how they do their work.

Why they’re actually doing it that way? What sort of things are they being asked to do? Have they enough support and resources to do the work? Whether they actually think or feel as if there’s any danger to them as they’re carrying it out? Do they have any concerns around the way things are being asked to be done?

Other than that, you may want to probe a little bit around the physicality of a job. If it is something that you know includes a lot of manual handling and ergonomic/physical stress. Ask them if they are feeling any discomfort. Have they experienced any ill health or injury and from actually carrying out the work that hasn’t been reported?

Sometimes people feel that something is relatively insignificant and don’t report it. However, after a significant amount of time, there’s may end up turning into a chronic injury or illness which obviously you want to know about. To allow you to take action.

4. Accident Records

Going back to our accident records, which is an easy way to look at existing problems and things that have caused injury or illness in your business. This should give you an insight into things that hopefully have been improved. But, it will also highlight areas of high risk, and there may be still opportunity for improvement.

It’s worth casting your eye across these areas and the related activities or tasks that have caused the issues. Just to see and make sure that you’re happy with the outcomes of any investigations. It’s a good way to follow up and make sure that whatever processes you have in place for improvement are actually working.

5. Absence Records

Number five to identify hazards, leading on from accident records is to take a good look at your sickness absence records. To see if you can use any information within them to identify some risks that may not be so obvious that aren’t being controlled adequately.

For example, have there been any absences that your employees have attributed to ill health that’s been caused as a result of the work environment or conditions. This may also relate to organizational factors such as inadequate supervision or training. They may be stressed because of workloads. There may be issues around interpersonal relationships with management and so on.

There are a range of factors and red flags that you can identify from looking at this information. You can then reverse engineer the issue to the actual root of the problem.

6. After Hours

Number six, our inclination is to speak to our front of line operators and people working in the normal shift patterns. But something to be aware of is that there’s a lot of useful information to be found when speaking to contractors and maintenance staff. Particularly those working out of normal ours. There’s a lot of unseen activity and sometimes it’s not as well controlled as you would like it to be.

Often it’s high-risk activities that are being carried out when the factory is not producing or the construction site is at a lower level of operations. So that’s something to be very aware of. Make sure that whoever is responsible for managing those staff is well co-ordinated and communicated with.

Engaging with the people on the ground for some feedback can be highly valuable, you can identify risk that would otherwise be off your radar.

7. Manufacturer’s Guidance

Number 7 then, on one that any HSE professional will be very aware of. It’s just looking at the manufacturers guidance and instruction for use of any equipment machinery or chemicals and substances that you’ll be using.

When it goes back to the legal premise for a lot of health and safety or environmental risk and the responsibility of employers. Much of it boils back to making sure you’re following manufacturer’s instructions. It will make it much easier for you to identify hazards.

If you can’t interpret these make sure to get someone competent to interpret them for you. And as long as you are aligned to that guidance and doing everything that they’re asking of you, then for the vast majority of circumstances, you will be in a good place.

Ensure to take into account anything else is happening on your site. Make sure there’s no conflict or impacts, knock-on effects from each of the activities that you’re doing.

8. Existing Procedures

Number 8 then to help you identify hazards is just looking at your operational procedures and method statements or work instructions. To give you an insight into how work is being managed and workers are being asked to undertake an activity.

You know, this is of course a pretty obvious one. But sometimes we get a little bit too comfortable in the fact that a work construction or method statement actually exists. Then when we take a good look at it, we actually find out that the way the work is managed or planned is really insufficient. Or it presents a lot of issues in itself.

So that’s something to be aware of, to get proactive on and certainly get help from those that are most familiar with the activities or tasks.

9. Regulatory Guidance

Number nine, second last bit of guidance here on our top 10 tips to identify hazards. And that is just looking at your local industry or regulator guidance at depending on where you are. There may be lots of useful information and here in the UK, we have the health and safety executive.

They have a really excellent and comprehensive website. Albeit, their guidance is all in written form and but you can take that information, interpret it and communicate it to your staff as and when necessary. Itt will bring you up to speed and let you know about the the legal stance on a lot of issues that may be relative to your particular sector or work.

Along with the manufacturer’s guidance, do use your local regulators website. The HSE is great as a check mechanism to ensure you’re aligned with the legal expectations or the industry standards. If they don’t have the information themselves, they’re usually pretty good at pointing you in the right direction.

10. Servicing & Maintenance

Lastly, tying all of this together is to do good review of your existing servicing and maintenance for your buildings and your equipment. To check that anything that you’re doing currently is relevant and sufficient for managing hazards on your site.

You may after doing your walk around and speaking to people, identify items and things and relate it back to your HSE or local regulatory guidance. You may find that when you tie it all together, there are quite a few gaps between the industry expectation and what you’re actually doing currently.

You’ll want to try and close that gap to make sure that you’re falling into line with industry standards and legal obligations to reduce risk to your business.

That’s it for Step 1: How to Identify Hazards

Hopefully when you put all these tactics to identify hazards together, it builds up a real picture for you. It should help you prioritize and develop an improvement plan to reduce risk in your business.

Richard Collins