You need to know about hazards

Some people say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. That’s not true at work. On some jobs, what you don’t know can kill you. A hazard is anything that could hurt you or hurt the people you work with.

All of us have heard about a worker or group of workers who were killed on the job. We have heard of workers falling from heights, getting caught in equipment or being electrocuted and burned. Events like these send a shock wave through the workplace and the community, and it is tragic for the victim’s family and friends. Unfortunately, this kind of event happens not once or twice but dozens of times each year in Ontario.

There is a hazard at the root of almost every workplace death, injury or sickness. A hazard can take many forms. Sometimes more than one hazard can combine to make an even bigger hazard. You need to know about the hazards in your workplace before you start working.

Think about the people you know. Do you know someone who has been hurt or killed at work? What was the hazard at the root of it? How did it affect you? How did it affect their family?

Some common workplace hazards

Here are some of the most common hazards in Ontario workplaces:

  • Repeating the same movements over and over, especially if you are in an awkward position or you use a lot of force. Think of someone who bends down all day, or someone who lifts heavy things over and over again, especially above the shoulders or below the knees.
  • Slipping, tripping or falling. Think of something as simple as spilled coffee on the floor, a cluttered work area, or a raised platform with no guardrails.
  • Working near motorized vehicles. Think of being hit by a dump truck that is backing up on a construction site, or someone getting hit by a forklift truck in a warehouse or on a loading dock.
  • Using or working near machinery. Over the years, many workers have been killed or seriously injured by the equipment they operated.
  • Workplace violence. It can happen in many workplaces such as to a gas station attendant working alone at night, or to a health care worker or a home care worker in those settings.

Can you think of any other common workplace hazards – especially ones in your own job? Two possible examples are loud noise and no lighting. Try to name a few others.

You also need to think about less visible hazards related to your work – things like chemicals, fumes, and toxic dust. Or germs and viruses in labs and healthcare workplaces. Some of these hazards can make you very sick. Sometimes they make you sick right away; other times you don’t know that you are sick until months or even years later. That’s why it’s important to know about these hazards now.

It’s the employer’s duty to make sure that the supervisor knows enough and has enough experience and training to keep workers safe and healthy while they work.

It’s the employer’s and supervisor’s duty to inform workers of health and safety hazards.

It’s the worker’s duty to report hazards they know of to the supervisor or employer as soon as possible so they can fix it.

Employers, supervisors and workers work together to make the workplace safer.

Here are four important questions about your job that you need to know the answers to. If you don’t know, ask your supervisor:

  • What are the hazards of this job?
  • Is there any special training needed for this job?
  • Do I have the right protective equipment for this job?
  • If I have any questions about safety, who do I ask?

Can you think of any other health and safety questions you should ask? For example:

  • How do I report an injury?
  • What do I do in an emergency?

Protecting you from hazards

There are many ways that your employer can protect you from workplace hazards. The best way is to get rid of or eliminate the hazard completely. A good example is replacing a toxic cleaning chemical with one that is non-toxic.

If the hazard can’t be eliminated, your employer can try to reduce the hazard. This can be done by reducing how much of the hazard you are exposed to. An example of this is turning up the ventilation system in a factory, or putting a barrier around a dangerous piece of equipment. These are called “engineering controls”.

Another way to reduce hazards is to reduce how long or how often you come in contact with the hazard. This can be done by arranging the work differently so that you are not exposed as long. These are called “administrative or work practice controls”.

If the hazard still exists after trying to control it through elimination, engineering controls and administrative or work practice controls, your employer may require you to use protective equipment and/or protective devices.

Protective equipment and devices

The OHSA says that one of your duties as a worker is to always wear or use the protective equipment that your employer requires.

You may think that a hardhat, safety glasses, steel-toed boots or some other protective clothing or equipment are uncomfortable or slow you down. But if the OHSA or your employer says you have to wear or use these things to do the work, you have to.

Some of the machinery in your workplace may have a guard. The guard protects you from coming in contact with a moving part. If your employer or one of the OHS Regulations says that the guard has to be used, it has to be used. The OHSA says that you must never remove or disable any protective device that is required. If the device has to come off for any reason, you should not use the equipment without a replacement device. Taking shortcuts by removing guards is unsafe – and it’s against the law.

The OHSA says you have to make sure you don’t use any equipment or machine in a way that could hurt you or any other worker. You also can’t act or behave in a way that could hurt you or anyone else. That means no playing games, pranks or acting in other ways that could hurt someone.

Other ways to find out about hazards

There are other ways you can find out about hazards in your workplace. Your employer may have some of the workplace health and safety procedures in writing. These procedures are about the work you do and the machines and equipment you use. Your employer has to make sure that you know and understand them when you start work. Your employer is also responsible for making sure the procedures are followed by everyone.

The law says every worker has to have information and training about chemicals or hazardous materials in the workplace. The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulation says that you need to receive information and instruction on how to use, store and get rid of hazardous materials safely. This information is available on warning labels and information sheets.

If your job involves using equipment, your employer and supervisor must instruct you on how to operate that equipment safely. One way to get information on the safe use of machinery is from the operator’s manual. It tells you about hazards and has instructions on how to use the equipment safely. Your employer should make sure anyone can check the manual if they need information. If there is no manual available for the equipment you are using, you should ask your supervisor for information on how operate the equipment safely.

Another important way that you can learn about hazards is through training. Sometimes your employer will give you the training at your workplace; sometimes you will be sent somewhere else for training. Your employer also has to tell you how and where to get first aid, and what to do in an emergency.

In a safe and healthy workplace, everyone knows about hazards. If you see a hazard on the job or a “close call”, report it to your supervisor or employer right away. That way, someone who knows how to fix it can deal with it so that no one gets hurt. “Prevention Starts Here” when everyone knows about hazards.

Step 2 quiz

Here is a quick quiz on this part of the program. The answers are located below the quiz, but please don’t look at them ahead of time.

Yes or no?

  1. The Occupational Health and Safety Act says that you have the right to know about hazards in your workplace.
  2. If a hazard can make you sick, you will always start to feel sick right away.
  3. To keep from getting hurt on the job, you need to find out about the hazards while you’re working.
  4. If you have any doubts about the safety of the work you’re doing, you should keep those doubts to yourself.
  5. If you see a hazard while you’re working, you should report it to your supervisor or employer right away.

Answers to Step 2 quiz

  1. Yes – the act says it’s the duty of your employer and your supervisor to tell you about hazards in your workplace.
  2. No – some hazards might make you sick right away, but other hazards might not make you sick until months or even years later.
  3. No – you need to know about all the hazards before you start working.
  4. No – you need to talk to your supervisor or your employer about it.
  5. Yes