A Fundamental Element of Any Accident Prevention Program
One of the cornerstones of any successful safety and health program is a process called job hazard analysis (JHA). This is a fancy term for figuring out the potential risks associated with a particular job and devising ways to control or eliminate them before an injury or accident occurs. The JHA technique focuses on the individual tasks/components associated with a job, whether it is collecting water samples from a boat or running a new chemical procedure in the lab. It entails identifying anticipated hazards and developing controls for each job component or step. JHA is like performing anticipatory detective work in which you solve the mystery or problem before it happens. This is done by proactively examining what could go wrong, how it could happen, what would be the result if it did, how likely it is to occur and how you can prevent it from happening.
When to do a JHA
A job hazard analysis can be performed for any job: in the laboratory itself; for support work in laboratories, such as sterilization or glass washing; or for work collecting data in the field. It can be used to prevent accidents or reduce their severity should something go wrong. It can be used for routine tasks and for “special” circumstances. In a fixed workplace, selecting which jobs to do first can sometimes be daunting. One approach for relatively static operations might be to identify tasks with “close calls,” injuries or employee complaints. Obviously, the jobs with injuries and illnesses should be first to be analyzed. Tasks where “close calls” or “near misses” have occurred or where simple human error could lead to serious injury should also be given priority. A JHA should be performed on jobs that are new and should be considered whenever changes are made to existing tasks. Ideally, this should be done first, as the job is being developed, to address anticipated hazards, and then amended once the job is functional. In the field, there should always be a JHA performed, as the hazards could run the gamut from exposure to the elements to transportation issues to wildlife encounters to chemical exposure. In simple situations this might be just taking quick stock of any unusual concerns; in others it could become very complex and require expert assistance to keep staff safe. Hazards requiring consideration could include work performed near traffic or on the water, falls from elevation, exposure to chemicals or biological agents, electricity, poisonous plants or insects, entry into confined spaces, severe weather, or exposure to dangerous machinery, to name a few.
Usually no one knows more about how jobs are actually done than the employees doing them. They have a unique understanding of the jobs, and that understanding may be the key to identifying hazards. Other workers who have performed the same jobs should be brought into the discussion if possible. Solicit information from your employees and students about hazards they suspect in their current work or surroundings. The workers should be involved in all phases—from the review of job steps to discussion of potential hazards to development of solutions. If through discussion hazards are identified that present an immediate threat, take prompt action to protect employees. Fix easy problems right away. Don’t wait to complete the hazard analysis before taking action.
Conducting the job hazard analysis
Before actually beginning the job hazard analysis, size up the general conditions. For instance, in a field situation the following are some general observations you might make:
- Is this in a traffic area?
- Is lighting adequate?
- Do you need to work near the edge of something that could present a fall hazard?
- Are you near uncontrolled power sources? Do you need power?
Are extension cords in use? Are there other electrical concerns?
- Will you be in cell phone contact or will you need alternative communication?
- Are you familiar with and qualified to operate the required equipment?
- Are there chemicals involved? Do you know what they are? Do you know how to protect yourself from them?
- Are there any explosive hazards?
- If heading into the “wilderness” or on the water, how will people know where you are and when to expect you back?
- Are there any issues associated with transportation?
- Are contamination control procedures needed?
- Do you have proper personal protective equipment for the job?
Are people knowledgeable in its use?
- Are there material movement issues?
- Have you communicated your intentions to those who need to know from a safety perspective?
The list can go on, depending on the circumstances.
Outline the steps or tasks
Once you move past the general conditions, you can start to examine specifics. Most work activities can be broken down into job tasks or steps. If this is an ongoing job, watch the process and list each step as the workers take them. Take enough time to get a feel for the work and that you are seeing representative actions (sometimes workers “posture” when first observed and work the way they think you think they should be working). Be sure to record enough information to describe each job action, but do not get too detailed. Photos and videos both can help with later discussion and analysis. Later, go over the job steps with the employees to make sure you have not missed something important. There are many examples of job hazard analysis forms available on the Web. Use of a form during these exercises helps keep the analysis organized and also serves as a good documentation tool.
After you have recorded the job steps, examine each one to determine the hazards that exist or that might occur. When describing hazards it helps to identify:
- Where it is happening (location, environment)
- Who or what is it happening to (who or what is exposed)
- What is the “trigger” for the hazard
- What would occur if an accident does happen (consequence)
- Other contributing or interrelated factors
Usually there are a string of factors that come into play that result in the hazard. In more complex situations, one may have to repeat the job observation a number of times before all hazards have been identified.
Recommending safe procedures and protection
After you have listed all hazards or potential hazards, review them with the employees performing the job. Determine whether the job could be performed in another way to eliminate or reduce the hazards. For example, make physical changes to the environment, alter the procedure, or use additional or different safety equipment to control the hazards.
Don’t make general statements about the procedure, such as “Be careful.” Be as specific as you can in your recommendations. The job hazard analysis can provide a good foundation for employee safety training.
Revise the job hazard analysis
A job hazard analysis can do much toward preventing injuries in the workplace, but it remains effective only if it is reviewed and updated periodically. This is true in the lab as well as in the field. In field situations, it is never a bad idea to do an after-action review to improve the process and take note of and incorporate any lessons learned.
When to hire a professional
Hiring a professional, such as a certified industrial hygienist (CIH) or certified safety professional (CSP), may be appropriate in certain circumstances. Such circumstances could include when there are many different or complex processes surrounding a job, when working under the threat of regulatory or legal scrutiny, when there is a new regulatory limit, or if there are employee allegations of exposure. Regardless of who provides outside expert advisement, it is important that you and your employees remain part of the process.
The JHA is a proven and worthwhile tool in the quest to prevent job-related injuries and illnesses in the workplace. We often do it on an informal basis when performing health and safety evaluations or audits. Performing formal JHAs provides a framework to address all the hazards associated with a job and help prevent partial corrections from being accepted as complete solutions. A quick search on the Web provides many examples of JHA forms that can be modified to meet your particular preferences. Until next time, stay safe.
OSHA Guidance: www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.pdf
From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/job-haz.html
From the US Forest Service: www.fs.fed.us/r1/people/jha/ jha_index_www.html