Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established to help organizations minimize work-related risks, improve processes and increase awareness among staff about Health and safety. The primary goal is to identify safety and health hazards and make workplaces safer and more hygienic through a holistic development approach. In addition, OSHA encourages companies to prioritize safety for regulatory compliance and embeds the spirit of Health, safety, and well-being into their culture and strategy.
Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs
Among its many policies, processes, and education recommendations, OSHA outlines several vital initiatives that companies must drive to achieve sustainable and prosperous health and safety programs. One of the most critical elements is the involvement and commitment of Management Leadership. Unless the top management demonstrates that safety is a priority, it will be challenging to establish a safety-focused culture. Worker participation is another pillar of long-term safety and health programs. Worker participation can take many forms, including feedback, suggestions, involvement in safety and health process formulation, etc.
OSHA also emphasizes the need for structured and meticulous hazard identification. Detailed site, equipment, material, and process assessments help companies identify, rank, and categorize risks to implement suitable mitigation measures.
Key initiatives include:
- Hazard prevention and control
- Consistently delivering safety and health education and training programs
- Regular assessment & improvement reviews
Finally, communication protocols are required between various stakeholders such as employers, employees, contractors, staffing agencies, etc.
Hazard Identification and Assessment
As we have seen, a vital part of the approach to health and safety programs is the proper identification and assessment of hazards and risks. OSHA guidelines propose essential steps to conduct thorough hazard identification and evaluation.
- Gather available information on hazards: The first step is to look at all the available information on safety hazards. This includes information within and outside the organization. For instance, details already available within the company could consist of data such as Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and logs and reports of accidents and injuries which occurred in the past. This can offer vital information and help teams see patterns in specific incidents and risks. Operating manuals for various types of machinery also contain helpful information about the risks involved in using such equipment. Organizations can also access external sources and reference material to help identify hazards, including trade associations and websites of industry bodies such as OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
- Conduct detailed workplace inspections: The next step is to thoroughly inspect the workplace to identify potential hazards. Again, involving workers in these inspections can be beneficial since they have hands-on experience and know the day-to-day constraints and risks they face. In such assessments, it’s essential to include all work areas, from office spaces to storage, transport, production, packaging, material, and equipment-related data. During these inspections, teams can make detailed notes, capture photos or videos to detail potential risks more clearly, and organize material into structured reports so that cross-functional teams can review this information and deliberate on possible solutions to manage risks. Hazard identification can also be viewed through risk categories such as electrical, equipment, fire, ergonomic, fall hazards, work practice-related risks, general housekeeping, health hazards, and emergency management. In addition, many companies leverage Safety Management Software tools like Fielda to gather information using customizable digital checklists.
- Focus on Health-related risks: The next step is to conduct a health risk assessment. Occupational hazards include health hazards of different types. Some essential categories include exposure to radiation, biological hazards like infectious diseases, physical threats like heat, noise pollution, x-rays, and risks posed by operating specific machinery and equipment. Chemical hazards are also essential to identify and categorize. These could involve exposure to vapors, toxic gases, chemicals, solvents, dust, paints, and adhesives. Even ergonomic risks put employees in danger since work repeatedly exposes them to extreme vibrations, lifting heavy objects, and repetitive physical activity, which can cause health problems.
- Review incident reports: Incident investigations help companies identify injuries, accidents, fatalities, and near-misses patterns. These patterns expose risks of various types and help teams assess their severity, frequency, and root causes. The data collected also answer vital questions such as what occurred, why it happened, who was involved, could the accident have been avoided, and how, etc. The answers also point to possible solutions: equipment-related changes, better training for staff, or more precise emergency management protocols.
- Explore risks involved in non-routine and emergencies: The next step is to ask the question – what are the non-routine tasks and situations that present safety risks? These could include anything from the maintenance tasks carried out only once in a while and not having clearly defined safety protocols. Situational risks could also include something like workplace violence. How does the team manage a conflict if violence erupts? Other more typical emergencies could contain spills involving toxic materials, chemical releases, explosions and fires, outbreaks of infectious diseases, weather-related risks, natural calamities, structural collapse, medical issues, etc. The important thing is to document all possible hazards posed in rare emergencies.
- Categorize, prioritize and address risks: Finally, teams need to review the collected data and organize the hazards based on their severity, frequency, and impact to explore temporary and long-term solutions. This risk assessment process could result in a risk matrix and safety assessment that helps the company identify the most significant hazards that could have the maximum adverse outcomes and address them first, moving to lower-impact threats in due course.
OSHA’s guidelines offer a clear roadmap for companies looking to identify and mitigate workplace hazards. The holistic approach aims to establish a sustainable safety culture based on a thorough understanding of the hazards and risk mitigation measures.