Managing Risk

Risk is everywhere.  Environmental, health, and safety risks present themselves on every project performed.  One way of managing those risks is through the process of a Job Hazard Analysis.  A Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) is often referred to in several ways (Job Safety Analysis, Activity Hazard Analysis, Pre-Task Analysis), but the steps to create one are similar.  Completing a JHA is a requirement for every job performed.

The first step in creating a JHA is determining the individual tasks involved with the activity.  This step is an area where a supervisor, laborer, and operator can assist.  In discussing the operation with those involved with the work, you will capture all of the tasks involved.  Often those discussions lead to the next step of creating a JHA, identifying the potential safety hazards associated with each step.

Once each task is identified, the process moves to the potential safety hazards that present themselves.  This step may sound overwhelming; however, the goal is listing out the dangers; i.e., Falls from above, struck by, air quality, electrical, slips and falls, contact with utilities, cave-ins, and more.  The list should be ongoing and growing as each task adds a new safety hazard.  For instance, multiple steps may present the same recurring potential hazard, but the list only needs to show it once.  With the safety hazards identified, it is time to control and mitigate them.

The Hierarchy of Controls is a tool that aids in the determination of which controls to implement.  The Hierarchy of Controls consists of five steps and is represented as an upside-down pyramid.  The top three steps are hazard controls, and the bottom two steps are exposure controls.  The first step in the Hierarchy of Controls is elimination.  Elimination is when you physically remove the hazard.  The substitution step is when you replace the hazard with a process or material that does not pose a safety hazard.  The last of the hazard controls is applying engineering controls; that is when you implement actions, equipment, etc. that aid in controlling the hazard.  The hazard is still there, however, they separate the worker from the hazard itself.  The last two steps are exposure controls.  Administrative controls are implemented to control the worker’s exposure to the hazard.  The last resort, would be the introduction of personal protective equipment (PPE).  The steps start with most effective methods and work through to the least effective.  

Proper controls and mitigations of safety hazards are layers of each step in the hierarchy of controls.  A great way to explain this process is to apply it to a familiar topic.  The hierarchy of controls for COVID-19 would look like this:

  • Elimination:  Isolation, quarantine
  • Substitution:  Remote work
  • Engineering Controls: Plexiglass barriers, increased cleaning, one-way hallways/aisles
  • Administrative Controls:  Limit occupancy, screenings, signage, staggering start times
  • PPE:  Face coverings, face shields, etc.

A JHA is a living document that puts all the information together in an easy to read and understand format.  It is meant as a discussion tool for review before the start of that work activity.  It needs to be allowed to be revised as conditions change on the job site.  JHA’s are a part of the overall work plan.  Think it through, plan the work, and then work the plan.  JHA’s are the tool that ties the planning process to the actual work performed.  A well prepared and discussed JHA will give you the best tool for managing risk in the field.  

About the Author…

Tim Hunt, CHST is the Director of Environmental and Safety at W. L. French Excavating. Having graduated from Keene State’s Construction Safety Services; Tim has spent his career advocating for a safer work and site environment by engaging with his coworkers on a relatable, and conversational level to help them understand site safety.

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