Step 1 in the 5 steps to risk assessment is to identify hazards. But it's not always easy to know what hazards you need to control. Some hazards might stand out or be fairly obvious. Though, it's easy to overlook some hazards when you have been carrying out an activity for a while.
What's obvious to you might not be so clear to a new or unfamiliar worker. So it's important to look at your tasks with a fresh pair of eyes when spotting hazards in your workplace.
Before you start looking for hazards, let's remember what a hazard is. Anything with the potential to cause harm. A hazard is not a risk but can create risks. Find out more information on the difference between hazard and risks.
Spotting hazards is one of the most important parts of your risk assessment. And there is a reason why it is step 1 of the 5 steps. Because every other part of your risk assessment depends on your ability to spot hazards. You can't look at who might be harmed unless you have identified the hazards that might harm them. And you can't consider what control measures you need unless you know what hazards you need to control.
Here's how to identify the biggest hazards in your workplace.
Don't try to carry out your risk assessment from your desk. Yes, you will need to sit down and put your paperwork together, but initially, you need to spot hazards. This isn't a written exercise, step 1 of your risk assessment is simply to gather a list of hazards.
Get out to where the site or place the task is carried out. Walk around. Take notes. You will be amazed at how much this will help you to spot hazards. You might have carried out work here a thousand times before, but when you look at the job with the purpose of just spotting hazards, this extra focus can highlight problems that you never thought of before.
If you are risk assessing a task you carry out yourself, take a step back. This about the activity as if you were starting it for the first time. Go through what you do. Look at the equipment, the materials, the substances and the environment. What could harm you? What could harm others?
Accident records are a great source of information, especially for highlighting the biggest hazards in your workplace. The biggest hazards, if not suitably controlled, are going to cause you problems. They are going to cause harm. What hazards have shown up in your accident records? What's been causing injuries to your workers?
If you have near-miss reporting in place, you can even stop accidents before they happen. Near-miss reports are a great way to spot hazards before they cause harm. Use the information you have gathered from these reports to identify hazards. Particularly ones that are not well controlled and need further consideration.
Use the free near miss report template to get near-miss reporting in place for your business.
Two heads are better than one. And multiple heads, even better. Everyone looks at things slightly differently. Workers carrying out a task every day can hold valuable information. What do they struggle with, what do they watch out for? Do they do anything differently now that they are experienced in a particular activity?
New workers might have recently discovered a hazard, or bring knowledge from other sites or jobs that can be used to your advantage.
Talking to your workers has other benefits too. Consultation and involvement of your workforce is a legal requirement. It will also help create a positive health and safety culture among your team.
It's often easier to spot immediate safety hazards than long term health hazards. Safety hazards could kill or injure someone immediately, for example, if you fell off a ladder, or if something hit you on the head. Safety hazards are also more likely to show up in your accident records.
But what about things like noise, vibration, and hazardous substances? They might not harm you today - but could ruin your tomorrows if uncontrolled. Exposure to asbestos, for example, won't harm you right now. But in 10 or 20 years, that exposure could kill you.
Health hazards are just as serious as safety hazards. In fact, more people die each year from workplace exposure to health hazards than they do from safety hazards. So, when spotting hazards, think long term and consider not just what could harm you today, but what could damage your future.
Always check trade and manufacturer information when spotting hazards for a substance or equipment. Safety data sheets (SDS), handbooks, instructions and manufacturer guidance can provide a wealth of information.
This could include how to use the equipment, how to safely store and handle a substance, and guidance on control measures. This information will usually highlight any specific hazards involved.
If you are a member of a trade association, for example, you could check their website or contact them. Similarly to manufacturers instructions, trade associations create helpful guidance. Often, this will be specific to the type of work you do.
You can also use other resources, like the HSE website, blog posts and articles on specific types of work. For example, you can find the definition of a hazard and 45 workplace examples here. You can also get a head start with our pre-completed risk assessment templates.
Once you have spotted hazards, you can start assessing risk. Use the free risk assessment calculator to measure risk levels in your work.