Identify, control and continually review hazards at work

Risk and insurance professionals are especially mindful regarding the importance of recognizing and eliminating hazards at the workplace.

As in most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. These five steps can help set your company on the right course:

<STEP 1: Separate business hazards from risks.

Before you can identify business hazards, recognize the difference between a risk and a hazard.

A risk is the likelihood that harm potentially will be realized through an action. For example, you encounter risk each time you climb a ladder, store fuel in a tool shed or get behind the wheel of a car.

A hazard is something with the potential to cause physical harm. Three examples are walking across a wet floor, placing an item on a shelf that hasn’t been properly secured and storing fuel near a furnace.

You can identify hazards in a variety of ways, including:

Walk through your office space, around the perimeter of the building or across the factory floor to identify trouble spots.

Ask staff members to identify hazards. They can do so through meetings, questionnaires or anonymous suggestion boxes.

Ask peers at professional association meetings and conferences.

Familiarize yourself with key links in your supply chain.

Read trade publications.

Schedule staff workshops.

Hire a professional risk expert. (An experienced, trusted broker can offer a treasure chest of valuable guidance.)

<STEP 2: Decide who might be harmed by hazards and how they might be harmed.

While each company’s list of potential hazard victims will vary, this is a typical one:

Employees working on the shop floor or warehouse or in the office. (Employees are just as likely to be injured by a file drawer that hasn’t been closed as by a rotary saw.)

Clients who visit your office, walk through your parking lot or use your product or service.

Staff members who drive while on company business.

Clients for whom your company serves as a supply chain link.

<STEP 3: Evaluate hazards and select control measures.

The next step after identifying hazards is to determine how to protect people who could be harmed.

Of course, the first remedy should be to remove all hazards that reasonably can be eliminated. (If a piece of machinery is blocking a fire exit, move it.)

When a hazard cannot be entirely eliminated, post warning signs, string warning tape or wall it off.

Every effort must be taken to prevent injury.

<STEP 4: Record your findings.

Record findings where they can be easily recovered. When appropriate, share them with members of your organization who could be harmed by these hazards.

By documenting how you plan to eliminate hazards or reduce the chances of their occurrence, you have a physical record – hazards identified, decisions made about who could be harmed and a plan in place to eliminate or mitigate these hazards.

<STEP 5: Periodically review and update your hazard assessment.

Safety is a never-ending challenge, as new hazards continually occur. This is true of the physical workplace, climate patterns, the working condition of machinery and other equipment, new or improved technology, employee skill level and experience, supply chains and clients.

Change can even include products and services. Fresh or heightened risk can be added whenever adding or improving a product or service.

Some risks, such as cyber and social media risks, didn’t even exist a short while ago. You must have in place a process to review and update hazard assessment and resolution on a continuing basis.

Based in Warrington, Kirk Salmon is a sales and relationship manager concentrating on the Lehigh Valley at KMRD Partners Inc., a risk and human capital management consulting and insurance brokerage firm with three offices in southeastern Pennsylvania. He can be reached at ksalmon@kmrdpartners.com.

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