Even within organizations with the best of safety and health management systems, both the line organization and safety and health professionals can overlook hazards. Therefore, effective techniques must be used to recognize potential hazards so that controls can be implemented to prevent unwanted events such as injury, illness, and property damage. There are many hazard recognition techniques, and almost all organizations need to use varied and different techniques in order to be more assured that hazards are recognized.

When Can Hazards Be Recognized?

There are three opportunities to recognize hazards.

  • Before Exposure to the Hazard: The hazard should be recognized in the planning, design and preparation phase. This is the best time to recognize potential hazards because at this point, no one has been exposed to any hazards. There should be adequate time allowed to review the upcoming job and determine what hazards may be presented.

  • During Exposure to the Potential Hazards: After the job, task, or operation has started, hazards can be found preferably before an unwanted event occurs.

  • After Exposure to the Hazard Ceases: After exposure has occurred, recognition may be the result of an incident such as an injury or illness, or could be the result of a critique or review of the task or job just performed. This phase also includes review of work permits, policies and procedures, and debriefing of the individuals that took part in the job.

To be effective, multiple techniques may be required to be used simultaneously or back-tobackto find hazards. Many hazard recognition techniques are useful when applied at all three of these opportunities. The key objective for every organization is to implement enough techniques at all phases of the operation to find and control hazards.

Effective Hazard Recognition Techniques

During the past 30 years as a safety professional, I have used a variety of techniques in many different locations and many different types of entities including manufacturing, service organizations, construction sites, migrant labor camps, shipyards, public sector agencies, aviation and maritime. The following paragraphs list the most useful hazard recognition techniques, advantages, and examples of how the technique can be used and how to use that technique. This list is not in any particular order.

  • Multi-Step Planning Process: This technique is intended to be used before exposure to the hazard. Every task, every job, every activity needs to be planned and organized. To do that job, task or activity safely, a simple, short multi-step question process will cause the employee to stop and consider the hazards and controls. Some employers even put these questions on a wallet card, the back of the employee's ID, or on a sticker for the toolbox or hardhat (If you want to put a sticker on a hardhat, follow the hardhat manufacturer's requirements for applying adhesives to a hardhat.). Most multi-step planning processes have 4 or 5 questions or steps that the individual or work group needs to ask.

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