Significant Hazard - Hasmate
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Significant Hazard

Significant Hazard

What is a significant hazard or risk?

Where and how does the term significant hazard fit into hazard management and the risk rating of hazards, and is it still relevant?

This is a question I was asked recently and there still exists some confusion as to its application,  and is it or can it still be used?

This definition was made redundant when the new Health and Safety at Work Act came into place in 2015, but it is still used or mentioned by other H&S commentators and in different publications.

I still apply this definition when carrying out hazard and risk assessments, because when it is applied, it can provide you with a lot more questions to identify and document the consequences of a hazard/risk if it was to go wrong

So, what does the term mean and how can it be applied?

Definition

(Taken from the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992)

It means a hazard that is an actual or potential cause or source of –

  1. Serious harm.
    This is the event that is the direct hit, the now when you least expect it. This is an event that had to be notified to WorkSafe.
    The term has been replaced and further defined under the definition “notifiable events“.
  2. Harm (being harm that is more than trivial) the severity of whose effects on any person depend entirely or among other things, on the extent or frequency of the person’s exposure to the hazard.
    Examples of the exposure could be:

    • Hearing loss from constant exposure to noise.
    • Carpel tunnel syndrome from carrying out repetitive actions over time
    • Typing and repetitive strain injury
    • Constant exposure to bright lights,
    • Welding flash or Arc eye (A flash burn occurs when you are exposed to bright ultraviolet (UV) light. It can be caused by all types of UV light, but welding torches are the most common source. That’s why it is sometimes called ‘welder’s flash’ or ‘arc eye.’ Flash burns are like sunburn in the eye and can affect both your eyes.
  3. Harm that does not usually occur, or usually is not easily detectable, until a significant time after exposure to the hazard.
    These are the nasties that insidiously creep up on an employee or yourself over time and before you know it, have the potential to maim or decease your employees if not diagnosed early, like:

    • Exposure to asbestosis (15 – 30 years);
    • Agent Orange from the Vietnam War of the 60/70s;
    • Thalidomide. The long-term effect was not known.
      In the 1950s and the early 1960s, thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness during pregnancy. But it was found to cause severe birth defects. Now, decades later, thalidomide is being used to treat a skin condition and cancer. It’s being investigated as a treatment for many other disorders.
    • Organophosphates. This caused the premature death of many New Zealand farmers;
    • Silica dust from concrete dust. This is an insidious disease that has no cure;
    • MDF board. There is no proven evidence if this does fall into this category, but I challenge any readers to park their car outside a joinery workplace. You will be forgiven if you think it has been snowing. Will this be the new asbestos of the 21st century?
    • Workplace stress and wellness. This is now a recognised workplace health issue and the workload placed upon employees must be monitored and managed by the employer.
      Three cases in point that lead to three employees taking their own lives were – a police photographer, a bank manager and an OSH inspector.
      There may have been other unknown reasons why they took such a long-term solution for a short-term problem, but all three coroners’ reports found that there was one common factor in all cases, they had asked their employers for help and were not listened to – why?

While the definition for significant hazard may be redundant under the 2015 Act, I suggest that you resurrect and apply it to any future hazard assessments.

A key part of the definition are the terms “actual” and “potential”.  These terms should be considered and asked of all existing or new hazards and risks.

A Plan of Action

  1. Include this definition in your documented health and safety plan;
  2. Train your staff how to use and apply this definition to hazard and risk management in their workplace;
  3. Develop a checklist with trigger points under each of the three parts of the definition, e.g.
    • the actual or potential “now” events;
    • after exposure; or
    • will the situation or use of a substance create a long term or fatal effect?
  4. Undertake a review of all your hazard/risk registers and ask the main 3 questions of all the company’s hazard management plans in conjunction with the definition of notifiable events;
  5. Document any changes and implement the most reasonably practicable controls;
  6. If required, inform and train the employees of any new controls you have implemented.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact Hasmate today.