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Nova Scotia

Identify Hazards

Controlling hazards begins with knowing where they start. Workplace hazards come in many different shapes and sizes. To identify hazards, you need to:

Identify hazards through workplace inspections

Supervisors, managers, maintenance personnel, health and safety representatives, and workers can—and should—participate in workplace inspections.

You can also use inspections to draw attention to and encourage good health and safety practices. Regular workplace inspections are an important part of your overall occupational health and safety system. Inspections let your workers know that you care about workplace safety.

Workplace inspections include both formal inspections and informal inspections.

Formal inspections are planned, regularly scheduled walkthroughs or examinations of a workplace, selected work areas, or sources of potential hazards, such as machinery, equipment, tools, and work practices. An itemized workplace inspection checklist is used to guide a formal inspection. The primary advantage of formal inspections is that a record is kept and any hazards identified are documented for action and follow up.

Use a workplace inspection checklist to clarify inspection responsibilities, plan and control inspection activities, and provide a report of inspection findings.  Checklists permit easy, on-the-spot recording of findings and comments. Be careful, however, that your inspection team does not become so intent on filling out the checklist that they miss other hazardous conditions. Use a checklist as a tool, not as an end in itself. Keep the focus on workplace safety.

Download a sample inspection checklist PDF or Word format and use it as a guide to create an inspection checklist specific to your workplace.

Informal inspections are a conscious awareness of health and safety hazards and controls as people do their daily jobs. They differ from formal inspections in that they do not necessarily rely on a checklist, and they are not regularly scheduled. 

Informal inspections can be done for a specific work area or task. They are limited because they are not systematic or focused, but they may spot potential hazards. The advantage of informal inspections is that anyone can do them at any time. Letting your workers know that informal inspections are a part of everyone’s daily business gives each worker permission to speak up about hazards.

Identify hazards through task analysis

Task analysis is a key method for recognizing potential hazards. It is a structured approach of breaking a task down into steps, looking for hazards at each step, and developing ways to eliminate or control the hazards to prevent injury.

It is best to involve your workers when doing a task analysis. They are the people most familiar with the tasks. They are most likely to have insight into the tasks that a casual observer may not notice.

A thorough task analysis involves five steps:

Step 1: Select the task to be analyzed

Ideally, all tasks should have a task analysis. But because of the number of tasks in your workplace, it may not be practical to do this for every single one - so you may have to prioritize tasks for analysis. To establish that priority, consider the following groupings:

  • Tasks with particularly high injury rates or injury severity
  • Tasks where you know the potential for injury or illness is high
  • New or modified tasks where hazards may not be evident
  • Non-routine or infrequently performed jobs with which workers may not be familiar

Step 2: Identify the steps involved in that task

A tasks step is one element in getting a task done. As a general rule, most tasks can be described in 10 steps or less. If more steps are identified, consider dividing the task into two parts.

It may sound simple, but task analysis takes time and thought. Too detailed, and you will create too many steps. Too general, and you may miss key task functions. It’s also extremely important to keep the steps in their correct sequence. Any step which is out of order may miss potential hazards or may introduce hazards which do not actually exist.

The example we’ll look at uses a familiar task – changing a flat tire – to illustrate the task analysis process. Using the task analysis worksheet, record each of the steps taken to perform a specific task. At this stage, you’re identifying what is done, not how it is done.

Task steps are recorded in the left-hand column.

Task Analyses Worksheet
 Basic Task Steps (in order) Potential Significant Hazards Hazard control Methods
 Park vehicle    
 Remove spare and tool kit    
 Pry off hub cap and loosen lug bolts (nuts)    


Step 3: Identify and rank potential hazards at each step

Next, list the things that could go wrong at each step. If possible, watch the task being performed as you work through this analysis process. Think of worst-case scenarios and focus on potential hazards.

Ask questions like:

  • can any body part get caught in or between objects?
  • can I be struck by or against anything?
  • can I slip, trip or fall?
  • can I strain or sprain my back or other muscle from lifting, pushing or pulling?
  • is there possible exposure to extreme heat or cold?
  • is excessive noise or vibration a problem?
  • is there a danger from falling objects?
  • is lighting a problem?
  • can weather conditions affect safety?
  • can I come in contact with an energy source?
  • can I come in contact with a hazardous substance?
  • are there dusts, fumes, mists or vapours in the air?

List potential hazards in the middle column of the worksheet, next to the corresponding job step.

 Job/Task Analysis Worksheet
Basic Task Steps (in order) Potential Significant Hazards Hazard Control Methods
Park vehicle a) Vehicle too close to passing traffic
b) Vehicle on uneven, soft ground
c) Vehicle may roll
Remove spare and tool kit a) Strain from lifting spare  
Pry off hub cap and loosen lug bolts (nuts) a) Hub cap may pop off and hit you
b) Lug wrench may slip

Step 4: Determine preventative measures to control the hazards

You’ve identified the steps of a job, and the hazards at each step. Now, how do you prevent injury?

The primary method of control is to eliminate the hazard completely. If that is not practical, the next option is to reduce the hazard as much as possible. There are 4 key ways to reduce a hazard, and they must be considered in the following order, which ranges from "most effective" to "least effective":

  • Substitution means replacing something that causes a hazard with something that does not cause a hazard
  • Engineering controls involves creating a physical barrier around a hazard
  • Administrative controls involves developing safe work procedures, providing worker training and supervision, and use of signage and warning labels
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the least reliable form of protection, and should only be used as a last resort after you have exhausted all other possible methods of reducing a hazard

Determine which hazard control methods you will use and list them in the right hand column of the worksheet, numbered to match the hazard in question. In listing the methods, avoid general statements such as “be careful” or “use caution.” Be specific about what workers should do and how they should do it.

Job/Task Analysis Worksheet
Basic Job Steps (in order) Potential Significant Hazards Hazard Control Methods
Park vehicle a) Vehicle too close to passing traffic
b) Vehicle on uneven, soft ground
c) Vehicle may roll
a) Drive to area well clear of traffic. Turn on emergency flashers
b) Choose a firm, level area
c) Apply parking brake; leave transmission in gear or in PARK; place blocks in front and back of wheel diagonally opposite the flat
Remove spare and tool kit a) Strain from lifting spare a) Turn spare into upright position in wheel well.  Using your legs and standing as close as possible, lift spare out of truck and roll to flat tire
Pry off hub cap and loosen lug bolts (nuts) a) Hub cap may pop off and hit you
b) Lug wrench may slip
a) Pry off hub cap using steady pressure
b) Use proper lug wrench; apply steady pressure slowly

Step 5: Write a safe work procedure 

A safe work procedure should be easy for your workers to understand and follow.  There are several ways to write a safe work procedure – and you may want to use more than one way to ensure all of your workers have the information they need to work safely.  One way of writing a safe work procedure is to transfer the information from your task analysis worksheet into a narrative format. 

For example:

Safe Work Procedure 1.1 - Changing a Flat Tire

1. Park vehicle

a) Drive vehicle off the road to an area well clear of traffic, even if it requires rolling on a flat tire. Turn on the emergency flashers to alert passing drivers so they will not hit you.

b) Choose a firm, level area so you can jack up the vehicle without it rolling.

c) Apply parking brake, leave transmission in gear or PARK, place blocks in front and back of wheel diagonally opposite the flat. This will also help prevent the vehicle from rolling.

2. Remove spare and tool kit

a) To avoid back strain, turn spare into an upright position in the wheel well. Stand as close to the trunk as possible and slide the spare close to your body. Lift out and roll to the flat tire.

And so on…

Other ways to write safe work procedures include:

  • using a flow-chart format
  • creating a table with column headings of “Task Steps | Potential Hazards | Hazard Controls”
  • using photos or pictograms to illustrate the steps (helpful for workers with literacy challenges)
  • creating a bulleted list of steps

As you develop your safe work procedures, ensure any hazard controls that are repeated throughout are identified early in the document. In the changing tire example, you could include a note at the beginning to advise workers that the activity requires them to use correct lifting, carrying and handling techniques.

And – most importantly – ensure your workers are made aware of and trained in the safe work procedures.

Identify hazards through observation

Hazards may be identified through observation—by anyone at your workplace.  You can think of observation as being aware of your surroundings in the normal course of your day and noticing something out of the ordinary.

Listen to your workers

When a worker raises a concern about something they’ve observed, attend to it immediately. Determine if there is a hazard and whether controls need to be put in place or improved.

Visitors provide a fresh perspective

Sometimes a casual observation by a visitor or another fresh set of eyes can point out something you may not have noticed, such as a slippery patch on the floor of the visitor entrance.

Immediately report known or suspected hazards—and near misses

Workers and others in the workplace who observe known or suspected hazards should immediately report them to you or a supervisor. Encourage the reporting of “near misses” also. Whenever workers experience discomfort, notice unusual odours, or find themselves straining to complete certain tasks, encourage them to report it. Make sure that their concern is heard and acted upon—and that they know their reporting is valued.

© 2021 Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia & Nova Scotia Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration