In a vast array of workplace environments across many disciplines, it is quite common for a variety of hazards to exist of which workers must be acutely aware. Most hazards are completely manageable. This management entails regularly identifying the environmental risks, updating hazard information, sharing/making that information accessible to all individuals that encounter them, and putting into practice the appropriate measures or procedures for mitigation of those risks. That’s where periodic hazard assessments come into the order of operations. The safety program in any organization–be it in research, construction, manufacturing, or other industries–should have an established hazard assessment program in place.
An effective hazard assessment program ensures that risks are proactively communicated and properly mitigated. Powerful cloud-based software solutions now exist that can handle every aspect of this effort, such as the Hazard Assessment Module offered by SafetyStratus. There are a few key goals that a comprehensive hazard assessment program must achieve, including:
- End users/supervisors are regularly conducting assessments where detailed information (including location) about each hazard is clearly documented.
- Assessments detail the specific safety measures (e.g., personal protective equipment) that must be utilized when encountering the hazards.
- Team members openly communicate in a manner that allows review and the option to document their awareness and understanding of the assessments.
- End users are required/enforced/reminded to complete updated assessments on a recurring basis (e.g., annually), enabling the discovery of any new hazards that may exist.
- Assessment records are securely accessible by all team members who have need/reason to reference them at any time (including, but not limited to, EHS administrators).
The Assessment Process
Cloud-based software for conducting hazard assessments can be extremely user-friendly and easily configured to enable access to all authorized employees. Users can log into the platform using any web browser (including from a smartphone or tablet) and start an assessment at any time. As part of the initial module setup, each “workgroup” (set of users and the rooms/spaces that they work in) is established. This configuration is often based on the roster of the direct supervisor. Administrators will also attach a detailing of the required equipment for encountering individual hazards during setup.
When the assessment starts, the assessor is presented with a variety of categorized hazards that are pre-configured based on specifications from the given institution or organization. The assessor then selects each hazard that applies to their area. The selection expands to present the assessor’s specific list of rooms/spaces. Only those spaces where that hazard exists are to be checked off. Within the hazard activity, assessors can view details of the required PPE or other equipment that must be used when encountering this hazard. Assessors will review each category and select each applicable hazard before completing and submitting the assessment.
Another key piece that can be configured for each organization is the review process for each completed assessment. In some cases, it may be most appropriate for the area supervisor to be the designated reviewer. In other situations, an individual in the EHS department can be assigned this task. The system can be set to automatically send a notification email to the responsible party that a new assessment requires their attention.
Configurable Hazards and PPE
Naturally, all work environments are different, especially across disciplines. The capacity for potential hazards is common to all working environments, however, and those hazards need to be documented to be properly addressed. As previously mentioned, the documentation of hazard activities, categories, and required equipment can be easily and completely customized for each individual institution with the proper software. Flexible tools that can be configured for documenting hazards, no matter the type, environment, or necessitated equipment, are essential for maximizing efficiency in assessments.
Notifications and Electronic Signatures
Capturing hazard information is only part of the overall effort. This step alone will not truly ensure the safety of your workers and the success of your program. Instrumental to the success of mitigation efforts is effective communication of the information to each team member, enabling understanding of the hazard details and what is required of them when they confront these hazards. A cloud-based solution for hazard assessments should include notification methods (e.g. email) that are issued to each roster member upon completion of a new assessment. These notifications need to include a direct link to the assessment, for secure and immediate review.
Documentation that each roster member has acknowledged the assessment is made possible with an electronic signature feature. For example, when a user clicks the provided email link to review the assessment, they can then be required to add their e-signature, allowing supervisors and EHS administrators to have a record of who signed off on the assessment and who did not. This is an important method by which the chain of accountability can be properly maintained.
Automatic Assessment Scheduling
Performing an initial hazard assessment is essential, but equally important is ensuring those assessments are always up-to-date. Scheduling periodic assessment updates is one way to accomplish this. Hazard assessment tools, such as the one offered by SafetyStratus, allow administrators to schedule hazard assessments on whatever recurring basis works best for their organization. Users can be notified automatically by the system that their assessment is either overdue or coming up. Administrators can very easily see how many assessments are overdue at any given time and can even send a one-click manual reminder to users.
Depending on the situation, the hazards present in each work area may change very little (or not at all) between assessments. In this instance, end-users who are performing the assessments may choose to use the details from a previous assessment, having all their selections from the last iteration instantly uploaded into the assessment record, making any necessary updates (adding/removing hazards) extremely simplified for a more convenient submission.
Centralized Hazard Assessment Recordkeeping
Having all your hazard assessment data in one centralized location makes it extremely easy for every user to have secure access to the information they need when they need it. The ability to immediately reference materials to refresh their knowledge on proper safety measures is incredibly helpful for the workers in hazard-intense conditions. Safety administrators also benefit from a comprehensive database of hazard data from across their organization. Having all data in one location also enables the configuration of electronic dashboards, where key risk metrics can more readily be analyzed by safety professionals and stakeholders.
Hazard assessments, with their many facets, communications, and data (especially in larger organizations) can be managed with the aid of robust software. Any safety program component that involves significant amounts of end-user interaction and cooperation can be difficult, as any safety professional knows, but the key is adopting a program that users can easily interface with and that can efficiently promote communications with little help from administrators. Combine these qualities with enhanced configurability of hazard details, centralized data accessibility, and other powerful features, and you have a truly effective solution for documenting risk and ensuring the success of your safety program.
Joe comes to the SafetyStratus team with over 15 years of experience in the biological sciences and laboratory management and safety. At the University of Connecticut, and later at the University of the Sciences, Joe managed multiple high-volume biology teaching laboratories. He also worked as an Aquatic Biologist for the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds. Most recently Joe held the position of Laboratory Safety Manager in the University of the Sciences’ Environmental Health & Safety Department, overseeing all aspects of safety inspections and compliance in over 150 campus teaching and research spaces.
Originally from Connecticut, Joe has lived in the Philadelphia suburbs for the last 10 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science and Biology from the University of Maine at Fort Kent. In his free time, Joe enjoys working out, taking in a good football game or movie, and traveling with his wife to sunny Caribbean destinations whenever possible.