How to Evaluate Hazards in Your Workplace

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personal-protective-equipmentHazards exist in every workplace in many different forms. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “The employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

A “PPE hazard assessment” can be conducted for an area, a job category, or an individual. Affected employees from each work area being evaluated should be involved in the assessment process. Employers should review the job procedures, potential hazards and the PPE currently in use prior to beginning the assessment.  Reports of work-related injuries/illnesses, near misses and other reported safety concerns also provide useful information.

Completing a Hazard Assessment Form

Your PPE program should be reviewed periodically, as well as any time there is a change in an existing process, or a new process is added. The person conducting the hazard assessment survey should identify the area or job classification that was reviewed, when the assessment was conducted, and finally, sign and date the form when it’s complete.  There are several common types of hazards that should be evaluated when considering the appropriate type of PPE to implement in your workplace.

Head Hazards

Tasks that can cause head hazards include working below other workers who use tools and materials that could fall, working on energized electrical equipment, welding, working with chemicals and working under machinery or processes which might cause materials or objects to fall.

Eye and Face Hazards

Examples of tasks that can cause eye or face hazards include working with chemicals, chipping, grinding, furnace operations, sanding, welding, UV radiation and woodworking.

Respiratory Hazards

Tasks that typically are associated with respiratory hazards include welding, grinding, spray painting, working in confined spaces, chemical processing and potential exposure to asbestos, lead, silica or other particulate hazards. Exposures to these and other respiratory hazards can make you sick or can even be deadly. Respiratory hazards come in the form of gases, vapors, dusts, mists, fumes, smoke, sprays and fogs.

Hearing Hazards

Tasks that can cause hearing hazards include working with or around loud machinery or tools in mechanical rooms, machining, grinding, sanding, pneumatic equipment, grounds equipment, generators, chillers, motors, saws, jackhammers or similar equipment.

Hand/Arm Hazards

Examples of tasks that can cause hand hazards include exposure to cut or abrasion hazards, working with chemicals, working with very hot or cold objects or materials and exposure to sharps.

Foot/Leg Hazards

Tasks that can cause foot hazards may include carrying or handling materials that could be dropped, performing manual material handling, welding, cutting, electrical work and working with chemicals.

Other Types of PPE

Do hazards exist that require PPE for the body? Chemical exposure, abrasive blasting, welding, cutting or brazing, chipping, sanding or grinding, electrical arc hazards and blood borne pathogens are some examples of hazards that can affect the whole body. These hazards may require PPE to protect clothing and skin from harm or contamination.

How to Select Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Work-practice controls should be implemented before utilizing PPE to control worker exposures to hazards in the workplace. This is based on OSHA’s hierarchy of controlswhich includes: engineering controls, administrative controls and work-practice controls. PPE alone should not be relied on to provide protection against hazards. PPE should be used in conjunction with engineering controls and administrative controls, and actually is viewed as the last line of defense.

Factors to consider when selecting PPE:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the potential hazards in the area and the types of PPE that are available.
  2. Consider the hazards associated with the environment.
  3. Consider the following basic hazard categories:
  • Impact
  • Penetration
  • Compression
  • Chemical exposure
  • Temperature extreme
  • Dust/flying debris
  • Radiation
  • Noise
  • Electrical
  1. Select PPE that provides a greater level of protection than the minimum required to protect workers from the hazards.
  2. Fit the worker with the PPE and provide clear instructions on its use and care. It is very important that workers be made aware of all warning labels and limitations of their PPE, and know to use it properly.

Working with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), gives you access to a team of risk management and loss control experts who can conduct a workplace hazard assessment and help you select and implement the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to minimize the risk of work-related injury or illness.

Contact the author directly at robert.radder@staffone.com.  This is the final post in our 30 Days of HR Outsourcing series. Visit the HR Bits Blog to read the entire series, for information on HR, payroll, benefits, workers’ comp and risk management topics, or subscribe to be notified instantly when a new post is published.

Image: Tim Hester