OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 2 Hazard Assessment, Elimination and Control

Section 7 Hazard assessment

Subsection 7(1) Identifying existing or potential hazards

A hazard is any situation, condition or thing that may be dangerous to the safety or health of workers. A hazard has the potential to cause an injury, illness or loss. Some people think of a hazard as “an accident waiting to happen”. Potential hazards are those that are foreseeable and reasonably likely to occur.

The purpose of the hazard assessment is to identify and evaluate those conditions that could lead to workers getting hurt or becoming ill. Injuries and ill health can ruin lives and affect an employer’s business if production is lost, machinery and equipment are damaged, insurance costs increase, or the employer is prosecuted.

Assessing hazards involves taking a look at what could harm workers at a workplace – the typical question to ask is “What could go wrong?” Doing a hazard assessment allows an employer to decide whether appropriate precautions have already been taken to prevent accidents and injuries, or whether more needs to be done. A hazard assessment takes into account the hazards specific to the work task being done. It also takes into account the potential for hazards present in the surroundings to affect the worker performing the task e.g. movement of vehicles, upset of stored materials, collapse of unsecured structures, collapse of earthen piles, etc.

Subsection 7(2) Written assessment

Putting the hazard assessment in writing moves it from a “what could go wrong?” walk-around-the-worksite approach to one that is more thorough and repeatable. Having the assessment in writing also proves that it has been done.

The important things an employer needs to decide when assessing a worksite is whether a hazard is significant and whether satisfactory precautions have been taken so that the chances of worker injury are eliminated or made extremely unlikely. When assessing hazards, an employer should keep the process simple.

To comply with this subsection, the employer must be able to produce a written hazard assessment that applies to the worksite or work activities being reviewed. The assessment must indicate the methods used to eliminate or control the hazards identified.

Hazards specific to a particular job or worksite that are not explicitly addressed by the OHS Code should also be assessed by the employer if the hazards are relevant to the employer’s operations. Examples include working at extreme temperatures and work-related fatigue.

For every hazardous condition identified, recommendations should be made to eliminate or control it. The recommendations should include the specific actions required to correct the problem.

Completeness of assessment

An employer must be able to demonstrate that all existing and potential hazards have been identified. The hazard assessment need only include those hazards that apply, or are reasonably likely to apply, to the employer’s operations. If confined space entry is never done, or respiratory protective equipment is never required because respiratory hazards are not present at the work site, then neither of these hazards is required as part of the employer’s hazard assessment.

The size and scope of the written hazard assessment will vary based on the complexity of the employer’s operations and the extent to which those operations present hazards to workers. The assessment may be only one page long, or may take up several three-ring binders. A single-page assessment is acceptable if it identifies all the existing or potential hazards at the employer’s work site and describes how the hazards will be eliminated or controlled.

One hazard assessment for multiple work sites

A unique hazard assessment need not be performed for each work site. If an employer faces the same hazards at multiple work sites, and the safe work practices to be followed are identical at each work site, then a single hazard assessment applicable to all the work sites is acceptable.

The employer must ensure that the circumstances at a new work site do not differ significantly from those encountered at other work sites for which the hazard assessment was done. Doing so, perhaps through a walkabout and visual inspection, ensures that the results of the hazard assessment are valid for the new work site. If unexpected differences are discovered, then the employer is required to perform a hazard assessment that takes these new findings into account.

Hazard assessment tools

The employer’s hazard assessment can be in any written format the employer chooses. The assessment must however identify the workplace hazards and indicate how those hazards will be eliminated or controlled. Figures 2.1 and 2.2 show examples of completed hazard assessment forms applicable to work sites that change very little over time. These examples meet the minimum requirements of the legislation. Employers and workers are encouraged to exceed this baseline level of hazard assessment where possible. Figure 2.1 applies to a small retail operation with limited hazards. Figure 2.2 considers the more complex example of a grocery store.

Figure 2.1 Example of completed hazard assessment for a small retail operation

  Date prepared:

Task

Hazards

Plans to eliminate or control the hazards

Restocking shelves and product displays
  • Products falling down
  • Damaged shelves breaking
  • Train workers, safety footwear worn by staff
  • Inspect and repair/replace damaged shelves
Frequently lifting and carrying products
  • Back injuries, overuse injuries of the arms and shoulders
  • Provide workers with carts, dollies, or hand trucks
Cleaning floors, washrooms, public areas
  • Working with unknown chemicals
  • Chemicals contacting the skin, eyes
  • Have safe use information [Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)] about each cleaning solution available at the workplace
  • If necessary, have gloves and eyewear available for workers
Restocking storage rooms, moving around the workplace
  • Slipping and tripping
  • Remove clutter and waste materials from walking areas
  • Clean up spills that can make the floor slippery for walking
Working alone
  • Not having anyone to help in case of an emergency
  • Employer will provide a telephone with which to contact the employer or emergency services
Other
Other

Figure 2.2 Example of completed hazard assessment for a grocery store

  Date prepared:

Task

Hazards

Plans to eliminate or control the hazards

Restocking shelves and product displays
  • Products falling down
  • Damaged shelves breaking
  • Train workers, safety footwear worn by staff
  • Inspect and repair/replace damaged shelves
Frequently lifting and carrying products
  • Back injuries, overuse injuries of the arms and shoulders
  • Provide workers with carts, dollies, or hand trucks
Cleaning floors, washrooms, public areas
  • Working with unknown chemicals
  • Chemicals contacting the skin, eyes
  • Have safe use information [Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)] about each cleaning solution available at the workplace
  • If necessary, have gloves and eyewear available for workers
  • Workers will be trained in WHMIS
Restocking storage rooms, moving around the workplace
  • Slipping and tripping
  • Remove clutter and waste materials from walking areas
  • Clean up spills that can make the floor slippery for walking
Working alone
  • Not having anyone to help in case of an emergency
  • Employer will provide a telephone with which to contact the employer or emergency services
Using electrically powered equipment
  • Unsafe operation by worker
  • Damaged cord or broken ground pin
  • Train worker and closely supervise until competent
  • Repair cords, inspect all equipment for damage
Working in walk-in freezer
  • Getting locked inside
  • Getting cold
  • Check that door handle works perfectly before entering
  • Ensure that workers wear proper gloves, apron, other clothing; limit time worked inside
Operating forklift truck
  • Unsafe operation by worker
  • Forklift doesn’t function properly
  • Train worker and closely supervise until competent
  • Maintain the forklift according to the manufacturer’s instructions
Collecting shopping carts in the parking lot
  • Being struck by a motor vehicle
  • Workers must wear high visibility vest
Working around equipment with rotating parts
  • Long hair and loose clothing getting caught in the rotating parts
  • Fingers, hands or arms getting entangled in the rotating parts
  • Workers should confine their hair and wear clothing that fits closely to the body
  • Rotating parts should be enclosed by guards provided by the manufacturer
Meat-cutting operations
  • Cuts
  • Heavy items falling on the feet
  • Foreign objects in the eyes
  • Workers could wear chain mail gloves, knives could be sharper
  • Workers should wear shoes/boots with protective toe caps
  • Workers may need to wear protective eyewear
Cashiers at check-out
  • Cashiers experiencing leg, back and arm pain
  • Chance of debilitating musculoskeletal injuries
  • Install anti-fatigue matting at each check-out area
  • Provide sit/stand work stools
  • Rotate cashiers to other jobs in the store so that they can perform other duties
  • Provide cashiers with more frequent, shorter breaks
Frequently lifting and carrying products
  • Back injuries, overuse injuries of the arms and shoulders
  • Provide workers with carts, dollies, or hand trucks
Other
Other
Other

Field level hazard assessment

At work locations where the activities and conditions change frequently e.g. construction sites, road building activities, brush control activities, outdoor work activities affected by weather conditions, etc., employers and workers often rely on field level hazard assessments that are done on-the-spot. This form of hazard assessment is done at the beginning of a work day or when a new job is started.

Figure 2.3 shows a typical field level hazard assessment form used (courtesy of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta [COAA]). Figure 2.4 serves as an example of how the form could be filled out for a business involved in the delivery of building supply materials to a work site.

Figure 2.3 Example of field level hazard assessment form

 

Figure 2.4 Example of completed field level hazard assessment form

Safe work permits

A safe work permit (see Figure 2.5) can also function as a site-specific, task-specific hazard assessment form. All hazards relevant to the task being performed, and hazards relevant to the work area in which the work is being performed, must be identified on the work permit. Because all potential hazards can rarely be anticipated when the work permit is printed, the work permit should include a blank area where a worker can include “other” hazards that need to be eliminated or controlled.

Checklists

Checklists are a popular tool often used when performing hazard assessments. A checklist serves as a memory cue, directing the person or team performing the assessment to look at specific hazards. On the negative side, checklists are sometimes too easy. An assessor may simply check off each box without actually considering each of the listed hazards and determining realistic ways of eliminating or controlling the hazards.

The notes and comments prepared by the assessor need to be as specific as possible, especially when referring to a particular hazard. If a guard has been removed from a machine, the exact machine must be identified so that there is no confusion about what must be done to which machine.

Because all potential hazards can rarely be anticipated when the checklist is printed, the checklist should include a blank area where a worker can include “other” hazards that need to be eliminated or controlled.

Figure 2.5 Example of safe work permit

Subsection 7(3) Date of hazard assessment

The hazard assessment report must be dated to confirm when it was completed and how current it is.

Subsection 7(4) Assessment intervals

This subsection requires that after the initial assessment, further assessments are performed as follows:

(a) At reasonably practicable intervals to prevent the development of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.
Hazard assessments should be performed periodically, even when nothing has changed. Doing so confirms that workers are continuing to follow correct procedures and that equipment is in proper working condition. Assessments should be done at intervals that anticipate problems before the safety and health of workers is affected.

(b) When a new work process is introduced.
A new work process may involve the use of new materials, chemicals, equipment, etc. with which workers are unfamiliar. A change of work process may introduce new and unexpected hazards.

(c) When a work process or operation changes.
The introduction of a new process, operation or piece of equipment might influence the results of a previous hazard assessment or make it meaningless. Adding an automatic feeder to a table saw for example, eliminates worker exposure to the hazard of the spinning blade, affecting the outcome of the hazard assessment.

(d) Before the construction of significant additions or alterations to the work site.
Assessing hazards in this case tries to anticipate potential problems and prevent those problems from being built into the work site. It is often far less expensive to eliminate problems at the design stage than to modify the work site later to eliminate or control a hazard.

Once new controls are implemented, the job or work should be reviewed to make sure that the hazard(s) has been eliminated or controlled. This is a check to make sure that the controls work as they should and that the controls do not create additional new hazards.

In the case of an employer whose operations change very little over time, the findings of the initial hazard assessment may not change for an extended period of time. Nonetheless, as stated in (a) above, a re-assessment should be performed at some time, even if it is after an extended period of time.

Subsection 7(5) Prime contractor to inform

This subsection places a new responsibility on the prime contractor to inform employers of any “existing or potential work site hazards” that may affect the workers of those employers. This requirement does not replace the employer’s present responsibility under this Part to conduct a hazard assessment. This new prime contractor responsibility is intended to have employers informed of hazards present at other locations at a work site that may have an impact on the employers’ operations.

Consider the following examples:

Blasting operations
At a large, widely dispersed work site with many employers, blasting operations are being conducted at the northeast corner of the site. Although few employers are directly affected by the blasting activities, the prime contractor must inform all employers at the work site that the blasting operations are taking place and when. This avoids the potential for confusion should workers hear and feel the shock wave.

Critical lift
Multiple cranes are being used to transport a large piece of equipment through an expansive work site and install the equipment at a central location within the site. Many employers may need to alter their work plans during the transportation and installation of the equipment. The prime contractor is responsible for informing employers of the hazards associated with this work.

The prime contractor can use any effective method to fulfill this responsibility. The following are examples of how this could be done:

(a) posting a written announcement of existing or potential work site hazards at a common entry or gathering location at the work site;
(b) posting a white board at such a location with this information;
(c) regular meetings with employers to update them with relevant information; and
(d) provide employers with electronic updates e.g. email, text messaging, etc. as necessary.

It is expected that employers will pass along this information to their workers.