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How to identify and classify OH&S hazards

What is an OH&S hazard? What is the requirement in the occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system to identify the hazards? What do you do when you have identified the hazards? When implementing an OH&S management system according to the requirements of BS OHSAS 18001:2007, many people become confused by the requirements of clause 4.3.1 regarding hazard identification, risk assessment, and determining controls. If you are having trouble, you are not alone.

What is BS OHSAS 18001:2007?

This is a standard put out by the British Standards International (BSI) containing the requirements for implementing an OH&S management system. This occupational health and safety assessment series (OHSAS) was developed as a recognized standard against which to assess and certify OH&S management systems, and was last updated in 2007. The standard was developed to be compatible with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

What is an OH&S hazard?

The OHSAS 18001 standard defines a hazard as a “source, situation, or act with a potential for harm in terms of human injury or ill health, or a combination of these.” Simply put, an OH&S hazard is any part of your company’s activities that can have a negative effect on the health or safety of your employees, as well as any contractors or visitors to your facilities. This could be the use of harsh chemicals in your workplace that can affect workers’ health, machines with moving parts that can cause injury to operators, or repetitive actions that can cause ergonomic repetitive strain issues with employees.

In order to meet the requirements of clause 4.3.1, the OH&S management system needs to establish, implement, and maintain a procedure for ongoing hazard identification, risk assessment, and determining the necessary controls to manage the OH&S hazards. Some things that need to be included in this assessment are routine and non-routine activities, human behavior and capabilities, legal obligations of the company and infrastructure, and equipment and materials at the workplace. Hazard identification should be proactive and be able to identify, prioritize, and document the risks and applicable controls.

What is an OH&S risk?

Once you have identified the hazards presented by your operations, you need to assess the risk that is presented by these hazards. The standard defines risk as the “combination of the likelihood of an occurrence of a hazardous event or exposure and the severity of injury or ill health that can be caused by the event or exposure.” In other words, what are the chances that the hazard will happen, and how bad could it be if it did? This is the first step in risk assessment.

Assessing the risk of a hazard is done to determine if the risk is acceptable in order to determine which controls, if any, need to be put in place. Acceptable risk is defined as “risk that has been reduced to a level that can be tolerated by the organization having regard to its legal obligations and its own OH&S policy.” The hazard of a paper cut in an office may have a high likelihood of occurrence, but a very low severity of injury, so this may be determined as an acceptable risk. However, the daily use of a hazardous chemical would have a high likelihood of occurrence of exposure, and the severity of exposure would also be high; this would be an unacceptable risk and in need of a control.

What is meant by OH&S controls?

The OH&S management system needs to determine the controls necessary to reduce the risks presented by the OH&S hazards; this is why the controls are put in place. There is a hierarchy of controls specified in the standard to consider; if you can do “a,” then “b” and beyond are not necessary; if not, then proceed to try the next level of controls:

a) Elimination – Can you remove the hazard from your process, such as eliminating a chemical cleaning step with a harsh chemical?

b) Substitution – Can you use something less hazardous in your process, such as a less harsh chemical that will produce the same results?

c) Engineering controls – Can you put controls in place that will stop people from contacting the hazard, such as protective shields on machinery?

d) Signage/warnings and/or administrative controls – Can you implement administrative controls to prevent people from coming into contact with the hazard, such as marked areas to keep people away from a hazardous part of a machine?

e) Personal protective equipment – Do you need to provide protective equipment for your workers to wear when dealing with the hazard, such as gloves, goggles, coats, etc.?

All of the information on hazards, risks, and controls needs to be kept up to date and taken into account in the OH&S management system.

Plan well for the best results

The reason you are implementing an OH&S management system according to the requirements of OHSAS 18001 is to give your company a framework to assess the hazards and risks to your employees and find a way to manage them so that injuries do not happen. By determining the hazards and risks presented by your processes, you have taken the first step in planning to make a positive change in how your company protects the health and safety of workers, contractors, and visitors to your facilities.

Use this free  ISO 45001 Gap Analysis Tool to find out your level of compliance with ISO 45001.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.