Each workplace comes with its own workplace hazards. While some may be ignored (not that we recommend it), if you want to keep your workplace safe and avoid a fine, you’ll want to take steps to avoid them as much as possible.
That means putting in place measures like:
- Installing safety warning signs in the workplace
- Creating emergency policies
- Providing safety training to staff
- Evaluation procedures and routes
- Purchasing appropriate PPE
Of course, all of these steps need to begin by finding out what hazards are present at your workplace first!
Before you start researching Australia’s danger signs requirements, first aid standards and OHS laws, it’s important that you figure out what sorts of risks your team faces everyday, including both the big and little ones.
How hazards can be controlled
Workplace hazards are inevitable, especially when your industry involves using types of machinery and / or hazardous substances.
How these hazards can be controlled depends on which exact ones you’ll be dealing with at your workplace.
So, how do you go about identifying these issues?
What are the 5 hazard categories?
Before going to the steps in controlling workplace hazards, it is proper to identify the types of hazard categories that exist so you’ll know when and how to deal with each one properly.
While the following come from American workplace safety laws, we feel that these categories are broad enough to be applicable down under as well!
Let’s start with safety hazards.
As the broadest category, this covers everything that can give rise to unsafe working conditions. In addition to accidents with machines, electricity, construction materials, chemicals and more, it can also mean:
- Falling from heights and other elevated work areas
- Slipping from cords, wires and slippery surfaces
- Unsafe handling of machinery
- Accidentally touching live electrical wirings
- Working in a secluded workspace
Next up are physical hazards, which will usually leave long term effects on one’s health and safety.
Despite the name, this category doesn’t include physical injury – that falls under safety hazards.
No, this category refers to hazards that don’t need to have immediate consequences – often their effects will only start showing with time:
- Frequent loud noises
- Working in extreme hot and cold temperature
- Constant exposure to UV rays/sunlight
- Direct exposure to radioactive equipment
Biological hazards refer to viruses, bacteria, mould, insect bites and more. In addition to causing harm to humans, in many cases these also put animals and the environment at risk.
The next category (and what we here at Signsmart specialise in) is chemical hazards. If you operate in a chemical facility preparing, testing, packaging or distributing chemicals, you’ll want to pay close attention to these types of hazards.
You may not be aware, but even those solutions that you get to use every day may pose a certain danger, such as:
- Cleaning solvents, especially those that are not properly labelled
- Solvent exposure
- Hazardous gases like helium, propane and carbon monoxide
And finally, there are ergonomic hazards.
While they may not sound as severe as some of the others listed here, the fact remains that these types of hazards can be just as damaging. Not to mention, they’re explicitly identified under Victorian WHS laws as an area that employers need to pay attention to.
Frequent exposure to ergonomic hazards can result in long-lasting pain, and over time may result in physical disability. Such hazards include:
- Poor posture
- Muscle aches following manual labour and lifting
- Repetitive and awkward movements
Now you know the categories – now, how can we reduce hazards in the workplace?
Now you know what types of hazards exist – now, it’s time to think of ways to reduce them.
The first step in that process is to identify which of the 5 categories are:
- Present at your workplace
- What form they take
- What you can realistically do to reduce or eliminate them
That can mean heading down to the shop floor to have a look for yourself, or talking to floor managers and staff directly about any potential hazards they’ve noticed or complained about. After all, they’ll know best!
Once you’ve done that and identified all of the hazards at your workplace, you can start implementing the 6 control measures…
And what are the 6 control measures?
Careful assessment of workplace hazards enables businesses to develop effective control measures that minimise the risks of accidents, sickness or worse.
At any workplace, there are 6 mechanisms you can use to reduce your risk – these are what we call the hierarchy of control.
Made up of 6 measures that are arranged from most effective down to less effective, this hierarchy helps you stay safe. While the higher measures are preferred, depending on the hazard or your operations, some might simply not be feasible.
For example, storing chemicals on-site will always carry with it some risk – while you can minimise said risk, as long as they’re present, you can never completely eliminate it.
Step #1: Elimination
During the design and planning stage of any product or process, you’ll want to find ways to eliminate potential hazards and create a product without hazardous chemicals or risks involved in their use.
Step #2: Substitution
Elimination is preferable, as it completely removes a risk or hazard.
However, it isn’t always possible. That’s when it’s time to start thinking of substitution – can you replace the most dangerous aspects with less dangerous ones?
For example, instead of using solvent-based paints, why not opt to use water-based ones that will protect your respiratory system? And instead of making a worker operate a potentially dangerous piece of machinery, is it possible to automate that specific process?
Step #3: Isolation
So you can’t eliminate or substitute a hazard – no, this one is essential to your process.
In these cases, the next best thing you can do is create some physical distance between the hazard source and your workers.
And we don’t just mean distance, either – things like safety barriers, rails, locks, fencing and guards fall under this category as well.
Step #4: Engineering controls
In many cases, your isolation and substitution efforts can be enhanced with engineering controls such as safety barriers, rails, locks, fencing and guards fall under this category as well.
Of course, it doesn’t end there either – workplace controls can also include mechanical devices such as:
- Process control
- Changes to work systems
Step #5: Administrative controls
As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword!
While not preferable to eliminating the hazard altogether, the rules you set in place at your workplace can go a long way towards protecting your workers from injury or accidents.
Some of the ways administration can keep your team safe include by:
- Restricting access to the work area to authorised personnel only.
- Choosing qualified and competent individuals to perform work tasks
- Scheduling high risk working operations to shifts with fewer staff present
In short, it’s all about setting rules that keep your team safe!
Step #6: Strict compliance to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
And finally, you can’t forget about PPE!
While it may be at the very bottom of the hierarchy, it still plays a crucial role as the last line of protection at your workplace.
Whether it’s face shields, gloves, footwear, facemasks, protective eyewear and steel-toed boots, PPE is essential for protecting your team from direct exposure to danger in case all else fails.
Hazardous workplace? Keep everyone safe with the help of Signsmart!
Employees’ health and safety will always be a top priority for any business. Luckily for you, you now know what you need to do!
Whether it’s changing up your processes, bringing in new PPE or changing the rules on the shop floor, workplace safety signs are a key part of keeping your workplace safe and enforcing your safety system.
And Signsmart has exactly what you need!
A huge range of durable workplace safety signs ensures that you’ll find exactly what you need, while our fast delivery means that you’ll get your sign quickly – usually by the following day.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? We also offer custom safety signs to inform everyone of your unique safety measures in place at your workplace. We can even make branded whiteboards if you need us to!