Module 4 - Incidents, Hazards and Controls

Roles and responsibilities

Incidents, hazards and controls

Module 4.1 - Learning objectives

  • Know about the difference between hazard and risk.
  • Know about the risk assessment process.

Module 4.2 - Hazards

Recall from the Worker Health and Safety Awareness workshop the introduction of common workplace hazards. A hazard can be classified according to its properties and will be chemical, biological, physical, biomechanical, or psychosocial in nature. Hazards exist all around us and should be eliminated where possible and reasonable to do so. Where the hazard cannot be eliminated, you must reduce the risk for them to cause harm to the extent reasonable. In other words, the hazard is the item, process, or thing that can cause harm, with the risk being the likelihood and severity of its occurrence. The terms “hazard” and “risk” are often used interchangeably, but that would be like saying peanut butter and jelly are the same – they certainly go together, but they are most definitely not the same.

Consult the hazard wheel to identify the categories and examples of hazards. The University has established a program to identify hazards and assess risk; this program must be routinely and consistently applied in all operations. A hazard is at the root of all workplace accidents and incidents.

Hazard wheel info graphic
Hazard wheel

Hazard Control

The hierarchy of controls provides a systematic way of thinking about hazards. It involves considering steps in a ranked and sequential order to choose the most effective means of eliminating or reducing hazards and the risks that derive from them. In other words, hazard control may involve several measures, including layered approaches to reducing hazards. Layering hazard control is more likely, since it is improbable that a single hazard control would suitably address the hazard or the risk it poses. Hazard control can be expressed in a hierarchal pyramid.

Ideally, control actions follow a hierarchy, with the elimination of the hazard to the extent possible being the most preferred. If the hazard does not exist, it cannot cause harm. Where the removal of the hazard is not possible, substitution of the hazard with a less-hazardous alternative is the next best option.

Although eliminating the hazard is desirable, it is understood that sometimes, work needs to be conducted with hazardous materials and/or in hazardous conditions; therefore, hazard elimination and substitution are not always feasible or realistic. Nonetheless, hazard controls still follow a hierarchy. Engineering controls, or controls implemented at the source of the hazard, are the next most desired – and typically the next most effective – as they usually do not require further intervention by the end user(s); the control exists indefinitely. Some examples of engineering controls includes lockout devices, dual operation controls, fume hoods, etc.

If the implementation of engineering controls is not feasible or practical, the next most desired control measures are administrative controls. In other words, the way the work is conducted is augmented or modified to reduce the extent of the hazard or exposure to it. Some examples of administrative controls include: reducing the time that the worker is exposed to the hazard; modifying work practices, training programs, etc.

If none of the above hazard control options can be implemented, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a reasonable hazard control option. Remember that PPE does not actually remove or reduce the hazard – it only protects against the hazard for those individuals wearing properly selected and fitted PPE. As a result, PPE is the least desired control method, although it can still be effective. Example of personal protective equipment include hearing protection, protective eyewear, fall arrest harnesses, respiratory protection, and protective footwear.

Control Pyramid

Module 4.3 - Hazards at uOttawa

An employer the size of uOttawa will have an innumerable hazards to identify and control. As a worker, think about your daily route from entering your building to your office, workshop, or lab. Take a moment and think about how many hazards you encounter. Now think about the methods of risk reduction that protect you from those hazards. Remember – just because risk reduction measures exist doesn’t mean that hazards can’t reasonably be reduced even more. If you think a hazard requires further attention, report it to your supervisor for further investigation and corrective action.

Understanding the items, equipment, and processes around you helps to make the workplace a safer place. It is incumbent on everyone to identify hazards. While one person may have a different interpretation of what constitutes a hazard (perhaps because of their knowledge, experience, training, or the protective equipment provided), a strong internal responsibility system identifies sources of danger so that continual improvement can be made.

Hazards exist with:

  • Lifting devices
  • Confined or constricted spaces
  • Chemical or biological materials
  • Designated substances, such as lead, asbestos and mercury
  • Lasers
  • Vehicles
  • Welding / cutting operations
  • Pinch points and in-running nip hazards
  • Sharp materials, such as scalpels, syringes, knives, or glassware
  • Indoor air quality
  • Radioactive materials

Hazard Identification

Hazard identification must consider reasonably foreseeable hazards that have the potential to cause harm to a worker. This includes all aspects of operations, including the physical components of equipment, the surrounding environment, foreseeable human factors (including misuse), cognitive limitations on the use of equipment or execution of the process, and all relevant phases of the process and/or operation. Remember that a hazard is the inherent property that can cause harm; therefore, hazards can exist anywhere.

The supervisor may also identify hazards by reviewing existing records (such as past incident reports), interviewing or observing employees, collecting workplace samples (e.g. direct, air, etc.), and checking other scientific data (e.g. safety data sheets).

The supervisor must also consider the potential combination of hazards and how they might interact and affect one another, which may create an entirely different hazard (e.g., A + B = C rather than A + B =AB).

Module 4.4 - Sources of exposure information

Exposure to a hazard is only part of the picture. You also need to consider the route of exposure (inhalation, absorption, ingestion, or injection), concentration, volume, frequency, duration, manner of interaction, and level of exiting hazard control. Paracelsus, “the father of toxicology”, is credited with the phrase “what is it that is not a poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is the dose only that makes a thing not a poison.” In other words, the amount of a substance to which a person is exposed is just as important as the substance itself. For example, small doses of common medication can be beneficial to a person for minor health ailments, whereas large doses of the same medication could cause significant harm. In other cases, even small doses of the same medication could be hazardous to another person due to a medical predisposition.

Fortunately, workers, managers, and supervisors are not alone in determining toxicity. Resources are available, both internally and externally to the University. For example, let’s assume that an office will be refinished. The walls will be stripped and repainted. There are several sources of information that a worker, supervisor, and manager could rely on including:

  • The designated substances reports and hazardous materials survey for the building, which lists the known hazardous materials in infrastructure (such as asbestos, lead paint, etc.).

  • The safety data sheet for the new paint.
  • The Vertere chemical inventory, which lists the hazardous chemical products in use within the space (where applicable).
  • Regulation 833, which outlines the exposure limits for hazardous chemical and biological agents.
  • Medical surveillance processes for hazardous agents.
  • Previous or active workplace sampling campaigns or modelling.

Perhaps the most useful takeaway from this section is that there is always more information available on the hazards encountered in the workplace. Workers, supervisors, and managers are required to collectively identify, evaluate, and control the hazards within their workspace. Internal resources are available when further assistance is required, including:

  • Joint Health and Safety Committee
  • Union or association
  • Faculty’s Health, Safety and Risk Manager

Module 4.5 - Risks at uOttawa

Risk is the combination of the likelihood of the occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm, which is commonly expressed as risk = frequency x severity. Risk assessment is the overall process of hazard identificationrisk analysisrisk estimation, and risk evaluation. That’s a lot of risks! Why do risk assessments need to be completed and regularly reviewed? Well, this video from the American Chemical Society provides the answer. Although this incident occurred in the context of a laboratory experiment, the message is applicable to all aspects of work.

Don’t worry too much about terminology: it’s the meaning of the terms that counts. Risk assessments are conducted in the following manner:

Hazard identificationThe process of finding, listing, and characterizing hazardsHazards are identified that are (or could be) a source of danger to a worker.
Risk analysisA process for comprehending the nature of hazards and determining the level of riskThose hazards are analyzed to understand how those hazards affect the workplace, with greater attention and urgency paid to those that have the greatest potential for harm as well as those that are likely to occur more frequently.
Risk estimationA process used to assign values to the likelihood and consequences of a riskThose risks are estimated using pre-defined scales to quantify the frequency and severity of the risk, which reduces the subjective nature of the estimate.
Risk evaluationThe process of comparing an estimated risk against given risk criteria to determine the significance of the risk

The evaluation aims to formalize decisions about whether a particular work activities should be conducted, which risks needs to be further controlled, and the priority for addressing risks. Possible risk treatment options include:

  • Avoiding the risk.
  • Reducing the risk.
  • Transferring the risk.
  • Accepting the risk.

The predefined scales to quantify risk need not be complicated, but they should represent the expected nature of both frequency and severity. For example, a simple risk matrix would include the scale (e.g. 1 to 5) as well as descriptors for the categories.

With risk assessed as frequency x severity, if a risk is likely (4) to occur and would result in major (4) consequences, that would yield a risk level of 16. The risk matrix places this on the high end of the risk scale, meaning that further risk control is probably required. The greater the risk level, the greater the attention required to address the issue.

Additional information about this process and its tools (PDF, 531KB), such as job hazard analysis and project risk assessments, is available online. As a leading research institution pushing the boundaries of discovery, it is critical that risk assessments be conducted by a multi-disciplinary, competent team prior to the execution of leading-edge work. In a way, these assessments are already conducted as part of the purpose of the research:

  1. Researcher wants to study ABC.
  2. Expected outcomes may include X, Y and/or Z.
  3. Research proceeds and findings are recorded and later published.

It is important that the researcher consider the hazards and risks of the research as early in the project as possible, not only to understand and control the hazards and risks that may jeopardize the health and safety of project personnel, but also to avoid costly interruptions resulting from reasonably foreseeable risks.