Some Approaches to Identifying Hazards

Hazard identification is the first, and most important, step of the risk management process on the basis that a hazard has to be identified before its corresponding risks can be controlled.

There are many different approaches to hazard identification and many techniques have been developed. Some of the approaches are oulined below:

  • Observational techniques such as workplace inspections and job observations
  • Comparative methods using checklists derived from guidance and codes of practice to compare ‘what is’ with ‘what should be’
  • Systematic or reductionist methods which break down processes and work systems into component steps to identify hazards at each stage in the process. Techniques range from simple task analysis (or, job safety analysis) to more advance techniques such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOP)
  • Failure logic techniques such as Fault Trees Analysis (FTA) and Event Tree Analysis (ETA).


Inspection techniques are observational in nature and involve looking at a workplace, item of equipment or activity to identify hazards – especially those that are not adequately controlled.

Many hazards are not visible to the naked eye and therefore cannot be observed. Some hazards are transient rather than permanent and may not be present at the time of a particular inspection.

Another factor to consider when using observational techniques is that people can behave very differently when they know they are being watched. Prior notifications of observations can be useful in giving the workforce an opportunity to show that they know how to behave appropriately, follow systems, and wear PPE etc. Unannounced observations should gain a more realist view of what goes on in practise.

Multiple perspectives are useful in safety inspections. Someone with hands on operational experience will have a real world view of practice, whereas a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ can often add insight.

Task analysis

Task analysis is a ‘catch-all’ term for a range of similar techniques that involve taking a task, activity or process and systematically breaking it down into its component steps or actions.

Industrial engineers use the approach to improve task efficiency; and ergonomists to identify and address potential for human failures.

In general health and safety practice, a job safety analysis (also known as job step analysis or job hazard analysis) is often used to identify hazards at each action step in a process, with a view to introducing corresponding preventive and / or protective measures.

When using such reductionist (breaking down) techniques it is important not to lose sight of the whole. A holistic view can often lead to a top level solution that makes more sense overall than a series of lower level solutions.

The basic stages of a job safety analysis are outlined below:

  • Select an appropriate task to be analysed. JSA is not suitable for jobs defined too broadly, for example: ‘overhauling an engine’; or too narrowly, for example: ‘positioning car jack.’
  • Record each step in the process. Observing somebody actually doing the task helps to ensure the process is accurately captured.
  • Examine each step to identify hazards. Tools such as MEEP (Materials / Equipment / Environment / People) can be used to help identify all potential hazards – unsafe acts and conditions. A team approach with input from operational and supervisory staff is usually recommended.
  • Develop a safe system of work using hierarchical approaches to specify appropriate control strategies.
  • Implement the safe system of work, ensuring appropriate consultation and worker involvement.
  • Monitor the on-going effectiveness of the system and revise as necessary.

These steps can be remembered as SREDIM.


Checklists are widely used as an aide memoire in workplace inspections, more so as a monitoring tool rather than for front end hazard identification.

A team desktop exercise could be undertaken to develop a meaningful checklist of likely hazards in a particular workplace. The approach to using checklists must be sufficiently flexible to allow unlisted items to be identified and added during the exercise.

The HSE website has a number of checklists for different hazards, activities and issues.

In determining the checklist content, grouping inspection items into categories can help make both the inspection process and the reporting easier.

A range of typical workplace hazards that could be incorporated into a useful local checklist are presented in the table below.

Hazard Group Sub-group Concerns
Work at
Fall from height, objects falling from height
Slips trips
Inadequate / damaged floor coverings, trailing cables, spills, leaks and ice
Risk of toxic or flammable atmosphere, drowning, overheating
Work on or
near water
Risk of falling into water / drowning
Fire  Combustible materials
 Ignition sources
 Oxygen sources
 Effectiveness of existing fire precautions
 Substances labelled as: very toxic, toxic, harmful, corrosive, irritant, carcinogenic,
mutagenic, toxic for reproduction.
 Work activities giving rise to products, by-products or wastes with hazardous properties


 Substances labelled as: flammable, highly flammable, extremely flammable, explosive,
 Work activities giving rise to products, by-products or wastes with hazardous properties
Asbestos, lead, dust, fume
 Moving parts of machinery.
 Crushing, shearing, cutting or severing, entanglement, drawing-in or trapping, impact,
stabbing or puncture, friction or abrasion, high pressure fluid injection (ejection hazard).
Heat, chemicals, dust, noise, vibration, manual handling, electricity, hydraulics, gravity, slips /
trips, etc.
 Heavy load
 Carrying on stairs
 Inadequate space / poor posture
Upper limb
 Highly repetitive actions
 Static muscle work
 Awkward joint positions
Noise  Noisy equipment and tools.
 Acute problems – acoustic trauma.
 Chronic issues – Noise Induced Hearing Loss.
Vibration  HAVS from use of vibrating hand held tools.
 WBVS from driving vehicles off road etc.
Alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and particles. Carcinogenic hazard.
Ultra violet (including sunlight), infra-red, microwaves, radio waves / RADAR, LASERs – each poses different hazards.
Pressure /
 Explosion of vessels under pressure.
 Implosion of vessels under vacuum.
Extremes of
 Very hot – heat stroke etc.
 Very cold – hypothermia etc.
Stress Demands on time, control over work pace / load, support mechanisms, workplace relationships, role ambiguity / clarity , management of change.
Violence External – threat of robbery, dealing with disturbed clients etc.
Internal – Workplace bullying and harassment.
Fatigue issues from long shifts / shift patterns.
 Danger / difficulty in doing job alone.
 Access to emergency assistance.
General  Tool breaking in use.
 Tool used inappropriately.
Electrical  Contact with intentionally live conductor, for example: live work.
 Contact with unintentionally live conductor, such as working on equipment made dead (isolation / lock off) or working with unsuitable / defective electrical equipment.
 Overheating electrical equipment as ignition source.
 Static electricity as ignition source.
 Load falling.
 Struck by moving load during lifting operation.
 Lifting equipment or appliance failing.
Combination of temperature, humidity and ventilation needs to be matched to environment
and task.
Lighting  Poor lighting may make hazards difficult to spot.
 May lead to eye strain.
Space Lack of space giving rise to compromised working position.
Outside work wind, rain, snow, sunlight may all pose problems.
 Moving vehicles.
 Falling from vehicles.
 Falling materials.
 Vehicle overturning.