Identifying Dangerous Situations in the Workplace

Published by Marshall & Gibson Lawyers on the 10 June 2013

Managing health and safety hazards in the workplace is a legal obligation of every NSW employer (and employers across Australia), and a significant way in which to minimise workplace injury and disease.

Business owners will also appreciate that the indirect costs of workplace injury and disease, including absenteeism, low workplace morale, retraining, declines in productivity, the need to backfill positions and loss of skills and experience, can also be minimised when dangerous situations in the workplace are effectively identified and remedied.

Good Reasons to Identify Dangerous Situations in the Workplace

All employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and to protect the health and safety of staff. This in itself is a completely valid reason for risk management in the workplace and being committed to ongoing identification of dangerous situations. However, some owners recognise that effective risk management decreases the likelihood of their business being involved with NSW compensation lawyers.

Understanding and practising risk management principles can lead to the desirable outcomes of:

  • Decreased costs, including accident compensation
  • Greater productivity levels
  • Increased morale, staff attitude and loyalty
  • More effective workplace relations

What is a Dangerous Situation?

When thinking about dangerous situations in the workplace, hazards, risks and exposure need to be considered.

A hazard is the potential for harm or an adverse effect on the health of an employee.

Risk is the likelihood that a hazard will result in injury or health problems for those that are present or near the workplace. Risk levels increase according to how severe a hazard is and the length of time and frequency of exposure.

Exposure refers to a person actually having contact with a hazard.

Process of Risk Management

Essentially, a risk management process consists of four steps:

  • Identification of the hazard
  • Assessment of the risk that accompanies the hazard
  • Risk control
  • Review of the process

Identifying Dangerous Situations

The first, and most crucial, step in minimising the likelihood of a workplace accident is identifying hazards. All situations and events that could lead to injury or illness need to be recognised, and their elimination needs a systematic approach.

Most importantly, trying to predict or anticipate every possible hazard in the workplace – the ‘what if? approach’ – is necessary.

Different Types of Hazards

Some types of hazards are easily identified, while others are less immediately recognisable.

Hazards can be divided into 5 different categories:

  • Physical – including: stairs, floors, ladders, fire, manual handling, falling objects, vibration, noise that is loud and prolonged, heat and cold, air quality and radiation
  • Mechanical or electrical – electricity, dangerous goods, machinery, cranes and hoists
  • Biological – viruses, mould, insects, bacteria, animals and vermin
  • Chemical – acids and poisons, chemicals that can lead to fire and/or explosion, cleaning chemicals, dusts and fumes
  • Psychosocial environment – stress in the workplace emanating from a range of sources fit within this category

Ways to Identify Hazards

A number of methods and resources can help workplace hazards be identified. These include:

  • Records of illness and injury
  • A commitment to staying informed about findings, developments and trends in workplace health and safety
  • Reviewing the possible impacts of a business’ work practices and equipment against legislative requirements
  • Conducting surveys, inspections and safety audits
  • Being committed to thorough investigation of all ‘near misses’
  • Obtaining employee feedback regarding hazards and dangerous situations

Who is Responsible?

Risk management is an issue that affects the entire organisation. To effectively identify and redress dangerous situations, all managers and staff need to be involved.