Job Hazard Analysis in the Workplace

| OSHA, USF Safety Florida

Written by: Garrick Johnson, Health Consultant, USF SafetyFlorida

Employees are exposed to hazards in the workplace on a daily basis and employers have the responsibility of protecting employees from these hazards.  Some hazards can lead to worse outcomes than others and some jobs are inherently more hazardous than others, but one thing they all have in common is that there are ways to reduce or possibly eliminate hazards using one of several control methods that are outlined in the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) hierarchy of controls.  In order of preference and effectiveness, they are as follows:

  • Elimination – removing the hazard so employees are not exposed to the hazard. An example of this would be to move a noisy piece of machinery to another area where no one works or outside the building.
  • Substitution – substituting a hazard with something less hazardous. A common example of this is substituting a less toxic chemical for a more toxic chemical when both chemicals work equally as effectively.
  • Engineering controls – reducing the hazard through physical means such as barriers, ventilation, isolation, and enclosures. An example of this would be installing a spray booth for spraying solvent-based liquids.
  • Administrative controls – reducing the hazard through work practices or policies. An example of this would be having a policy that requires two employees to lift objects that weigh more than 50 lbs.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – when no other controls are available the last line of protection is PPE. Common PPE are gloves, welding masks, respirators, ear protection, safety glasses, etc.

The primary means to identifying and controlling hazards is to conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA).  In OSHA Publication No. 3071 titled Job Hazard Analysis, a JHA is defined as “a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur.  It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment.” Or more simply put: every step of a specific task is evaluated for potential hazards, control methods are identified to eliminate or reduce the hazards, and if no controls are available then identify what PPE is needed.  JHA’s are thought exercises that attempt to identify what can go wrong, what the consequences are if something went wrong, the scenarios in which potential hazards lie along with their respective contributing factors, and how likely would it be to occur.  A JHA need not be overly complex, but it does need to be effective.  The task of conducting JHA often falls on the employees in positions of authority, such as the safety manager/coordinator or a supervisor/foreman; however, the best resource for completing JHAs is often overlooked – the employees themselves.  Involving employees engaged in the job task or exposed to its unique hazards utilizes knowledge that can often be gained only by performing that job task. It also has the added benefit of having employees actively participate in the safety and health program, which is key in having them “buy-in” to the safety and health program. 

Ideally, JHAs are completed before a job task or process is introduced into the workplace. Conducting JHAs beforehand maximizes the opportunity to consider all types of controls, and is more cost-effective as it allows hazards to be controlled before they can even occur, rather than modifying a job task or process that is already active.  More often, though, JHAs are conducted well after a job task or process has been implemented and if an employer has several job tasks, all with varying types of equipment and hazards, conducting JHAs can seem overwhelming and employers may not even know where to begin.  In this situation, JHAs can be prioritized based on:

  • Jobs with the highest injury or illness rates;
  • Jobs with the potential to cause severe or disabling injuries or illness, even if there is no history of previous accidents;
  • Jobs in which one simple human error could lead to a severe accident or injury;
  • Jobs that are new to your operation or have undergone changes in processes and procedures; and
  • Jobs complex enough to require written instructions.

JHAs are included in OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs and employers are not required to conduct JHAs, but all employers should strongly consider conducting JHAs as they can help reduce injuries and illnesses, which in turn corresponds to reduced worker’s compensation costs and increased productivity.  The exception to the requirement for conducting JHAs is if employees are being provided PPE.  Since PPE’s effectiveness lies in its suitability for use in the specific application, OSHA’s PPE general requirements standard 1910.132 explicitly states employers need to have a written certification that a JHA has been performed, and that the proper PPE is being provided.    

Now that the concept and process of conducting a JHA has been described, let’s look at a simple example I use when talking to employers about JHAs.

Example: Conducting a JHA for making a pot of coffee.

Now obviously this is overkill for a task as simple and relatively low-hazard as making a pot of coffee, but it is illustrative of a comprehensive JHA.  Now back to the question of effectiveness. How do you know if a JHA is effective?  Simply put: if an employer has conducted a JHA on a job task or process, implemented controls, and employees are still sustaining injuries while engaged in that job task; then the JHA has overlooked something or identified improper PPE, and is not effective.  In the coffee making example above, let’s imagine that only a very specific type of glass carafe can be used, the only source of water is from a 5 gallon dispenser due to the coffee maker being in a remote location, and that a carafe breaks which leads to an employee suffering a laceration.  In this scenario, substituting the glass carafe is not an option, nor is eliminating the need to fill the carafe since it has to be filled from a 5-gallon dispenser. The original JHA would show that the only option to protect employees from lacerations is to provide them with cut-resistant gloves; but since they are still being injured (assuming that they are actually wearing the gloves), the gloves identified are not effective.  In this case, a new JHA would have to be performed and a different type of glove evaluated.

A properly conducted and effective JHA is a powerful tool in eliminating or reducing hazards in the workplace, and can provide big returns in terms of cost savings and increased productivity.  I would encourage all employers to download a copy of OSHA’s guidebook Job Hazard Analysis from https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.pdf for further information.  Consultants with the USF SafetyFlorida Consultation Program are readily available to help employers navigate the ins and outs of OSHA standards, and to assist employers provide a safe and healthy working environment for their workers. Call toll-free at 1-866-273-1105 or visit www.usfsafetyflorida.com to request a free and confidential consultation visit.