Identifying hazards

Your first step in protecting workers involves accurately identifying potential hazards in your workplace. You're looking for all the things and situations that could possibly harm your workers or other workers that may be on site.

Identifying hazards starts with a workplace inspection. This includes walking around your site:

  • Observing how work tasks are being performed
  • Assessing the equipment workers are using, and considering how that equipment is being used
  • Analyzing the design and layout of the work areas

This is a proactive process. Ask yourself, what is it about the activities, processes, or substances used that could injure your workers or harm their health?

Hazards generally arise from the following aspects of work:

  • The physical work environment
  • Equipment, materials, and substances used at the workplace
  • Work tasks and how they are performed
  • Work design and management

When you work in a place every day, it's easy to overlook some hazards. Here are some tips to help you identify risks in your workplace:

  • For equipment, check manufacturer instructions or safety data sheets. Think about long-term health hazards such as high levels of noise.
  • Consider non-routine operations, such as maintenance, cleaning operations, or changes in production cycles.
  • For chemicals, check manufacturer instructions or safety data sheets. Remember to think about long-term health hazards such as exposure to harmful substances.
  • Do an overall review of your incident and worker health records, as well as records of near misses or worker complaints. These can help identify less obvious hazards. People tend to deal with incidents as they occur, but viewing all that has occurred over time can alert you to a pattern and help you identify a hazard that may be systemic. If you're a large employer, our Employer Health and Safety Planning Tool Kit may help.
  • Consult with your workers about any health and safety issues they've encountered in their work. It is important to keep lines of communication open with your workers, as they can likely identify risks to both workers and production. Survey them anonymously, asking open-ended questions. You may even choose to recognize workers who identify hazards in advance, since this helps business in the long run.
  • Keep up with the information about hazards and risks relevant to your specific industry or type of work. Consult with industry associations, manufacturers, and suppliers — all of which can provide you with valuable information. Also check out our Industry health and safety data, which shows detailed data for any industry.
  • Review our resources and information on common risks in specific industries, including common hazards and exposures and tools, equipment, and machinery.

Once you have a documented list of hazards, you're ready to begin assessing and controlling the risks.