Three Steps to Managing Hazards

The term hazard simply refers to a danger or risk. They are unwanted and avoided in the workplace. While in many instances, they can be avoided, certain industries support job tasks that incur hazardous activity that cannot be avoided. In these cases, great care must be exerted in avoiding their unpleasant effects.

The secret to success in working in dangerous environments is compliance with a robust hazard mitigation program. This is an effective process in identifying hazards and then stipulating how to combat their effects. While hazard management can be a detailed and challenging process, the application by which to deal with them follows a historically accurate set of guidelines. A three-step process of applying elimination, engineering controls or administrative controls can protect individuals from incident and injury.

Hazard Elimination

The most effective method to avoid a hazard is to remove it from the equation. Eliminating the hazard reigns as the most effective way to ensure a 100% safety guarantee. If the hazard is not there, it cannot render harm.

Unfortunately, some working environments are considered high risk. There are times when dangerous activity must take place, and at these points, the workforce indulges a higher risk of incident or injury.

The challenge to hazard elimination is taking a serious and hard look at the situation where it exists. A thorough process and analysis must be followed in deciding if the hazard can truly be eliminated. Work activities, like drilling an oil well, are dangerous, but there is no way for that particular activity with its multiple hazards be eliminated. It is then that another stage of hazard management must be called upon.

Engineering Controls

In a perfect world, the hazard would be eliminated, and employees would live happily ever after. That is not always the case. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, the workforce can still find protection and complete work safely, but it is not the best option. It is more of an alternative.

Engineering controls are devices that establish a barrier between the worker and the hazard. This prevails as the best scenario if the hazard cannot be eliminated. If enough thought was wagered in considering this process, one might be surprised to find that this often takes place in the workplace.

Consider that both children and adults ride bicycles for recreation. Most more than likely have not considered that they possess engineering controls themselves. Bicycles have chains, and the possibility of catching one’s foot in them is a hazard. The chain cannot be removed because it is used for propulsion. Since the hazard producer, the bike in this situation, cannot be eliminated, the chain guard is the next best layer of safety. It is the engineering control installed to avoid the hazard of catching the foot. Walking down Memory Lane, one can say with confidence that the chain guard engineering control was an effective measure.

Administrative Controls

Sometimes engineering controls cannot provide adequate protection against a hazard. In these cases, administrative controls are implemented to provide an alternate means in hazard management or protection. At other times, administrative controls are used in conjunction with engineering controls.

Administrative controls are the policies and programs that are created and implemented to protect the workforce. It is safe to say that all policies found within a company’s safety manual are all examples of administrative controls.

Consider an event where individuals must work at heights. The work cannot be avoided, so if a working platform could receive guard rails, then an engineering control was successfully implemented. If the guard rail option was not possible and the workforce had to don fall protection, the administrative control of a fall protection plan would partner with the activity. This policy would inform the worker as to when to don the necessary equipment and specify how to use it. The combination of fall protection equipment and instructions on how to use it would serve as the best method in avoiding the hazard of falling.

Personal Protective Equipment

Known throughout construction and energy industries as PPE, personal protective equipment is considered the very last line of defense when experiencing a hazard. This ranges from basic equipment like safety glasses and hard hats to the more complex like respirators and blast protection suits.

When working outdoors on construction sites, the wind and breeze can lift and carry debris of microscope size and infiltrate the eyes. This is a hazard that cannot be eliminated. The ground cannot be managed to eliminate dust from traveling in the air. There are no engineering controls that can eliminate dust from blowing in the wind, and administrative controls cannot apply. Safety glasses, however, are tools in the PPE toolbox that can protect against debris from entering the eyes.

It is important to note that PPE is not 100% effective. They definitely improve the situation and provide a better attempt at avoiding incident and injury. With that in mind, PPE can still be effective and lend credence to the thought that something is better than nothing. After PPE, no other routes of protection can be implemented; therefore, it is crucial to utilize this equipment correctly and vigilantly.

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188