Every workplace has hazards so it's important you learn how to work safely.

Identify hazards

A hazard is a situation in the workplace that has the potential to harm the health and safety of people or to damage plant and equipment. The situation could involve a task, a chemical or an item of plant or equipment.

Your workplace has a duty to eliminate hazards to workers and others. They do this by identifying hazards and potential hazards and putting controls in place to minimise the risk. Identified hazards are managed in accordance with the ‘hierarchy of control’. This is a legal obligation for all workplaces so you should become familiar with the hierarchy.

If you identify a hazard at work, or have a question about health and safety, you should tell your supervisor or Health and Safety Representative. Your employer needs to assess the risk, discuss it and implement the appropriate control measures using the 'hierarchy of control'.

Controlling hazards

The hierarchy of control is a system for controlling risks in the workplace. As all controls to risk are not equally effective, the hierarchy of control method ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability through to the lowest and least reliable protection.

Eliminating the hazard and risk is the highest level of control in the hierarchy, followed by reducing the risk through substitution, isolation and engineering controls, then followed by reducing the risk through administrative controls and finally through the use of protective personal equipment (PPE).

In some cases a combination of control measures may be used to provide the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable.

When selecting and implementing a combination of control measures it’s important that you consider whether any new risks might be introduced as a result.

Level 1 controls

Eliminate – Remove the hazard completely from the workplace, such as removing trip hazards on the floor or disposing of unwanted chemicals. This is the most effective control measure and must always be considered before other controls.

Level 2 controls

Substitute – Substitute or replace the hazard with a less hazardous work practice, such as replacing solvent-based paints with water-based paints.

Isolate – As much as possible, separate the hazard or hazardous work practice from people by distance or using barriers, such as placing guards around moving parts of machinery.

Engineering controls – These are physical control measures, such as guarding or using a trolley to lift heavy loads.

Level 3 controls

Administrative controls – These are work methods or procedures that are designed to minimise the exposure to a hazard, such as developing a procedure on how to operate machinery safely or using signs to warn people of a hazard. Administrative controls should only be considered when other higher control measures are not practicable.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Ear muffs, hard hats, masks, gloves, protective eyewear and other forms of PPE should be a last option as they do nothing to change the hazard itself. Effectiveness also relies on the proper fit, use and maintenance of the equipment.

Introducing a new control measure

When implementing a new control, your workplace should:

  • start at the top of the hierarchy of control
  • allow you and your co-workers to trial controls and give feedback before decisions are made permanent
  • develop work procedures to ensure that controls are understood and everyone understands their responsibilities
  • communicate the reasons for the change
  • ensure that any equipment used is properly maintained
  • provide training to ensure you and your co-workers can competently implement risk controls. Training should include
    • risk identification and management
    • proper use of equipment
    • use of safe work procedures
    • how to report a problem or maintenance issue.

You workplace also needs to regularly review all implemented control measures and, if necessary, revise them to make sure they are working as intended. To review a control measure, your workplace will use the same method as the initial hazard identification step.

See our Managing health and safety risks page for further information.

Refusing to undertake unsafe work

If you think the work you're doing is dangerous and there is a risk of serious injury to yourself or others, then you have the right to refuse the work - but tell your employer, supervisor and Health and Safety Representative before you do anything. If the issue cannot be settled, advice can be sought from a SafeWork SA Inspector.

Everyone is responsible for safe work - so if you're not sure about something, ask someone.

Up next: Slips, trips and falls

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  1. Work health and safety responsibilities
  2. Hazards
  3. Slips, trips and falls
  4. Manual handling
  5. Hazardous chemicals
  6. Noise & hearing loss
  7. Mechanical equipment
  8. Electricity
  9. Take the Safety Check quiz