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Identifying Potential Workplace Hazards

As safety professionals we know that potential hazards can and do become real.  We know that they can cause great damage and that to identify is to manage.

So, how do you identify potential hazards in a work discipline that you may not know much about?

For example, I am not an electrician so how will I be able to look objectively at an electrical tradesman’s scope of work and environment and ascertain whether or not they are working safely in a safe setting. Well, I don’t need to if I view the scenario through the perspective of Haddon’s Energy Damage Model.

The concept that energy not only merely exists but can also cause damage was initially observed by James J. Gibson in 1961. It was further explored by William Haddon who concluded that when energy “reaches susceptible structures, in amounts and at rates in excess of those it can handle”1 it can cause great damage.

Following on then, it could be argued that being aware of Haddon’s model removes – or at least reduces significantly – the requirement for us as safety professionals to be experts in the discipline, task or scenario in order to identify the risks involved. Instead, we need only be aware of the energies present. Using this information we should then be able to identify where there could be a potential loss of control of energy, the likely outcomes and more importantly how to best manage the situation to prevent harm.

Some distinct advantages of Haddon’s model are that:

  • Focusing on energies that are present in a workplace scenario promotes a high degree of objectivity;
  • Energy is a constant so the energy damage model can be utilised when performing risk analysis, creating bow-tie incident diagrams, and even reviewing incidents that have occurred for lessons learned; and
  • The outcomes of the review can be easily communicated to safety professionals and others alike promoting inclusive discussion.

As with any theory or model there are some limitations however, and for this model they are:

  • It doesn’t outline the process(es) required for risk reduction; and
  • Non-energy damage related hazards e.g. the influence of individual psychological, social and cultural factors, are not accounted for which may lead to the oversight of potentially damaging pressures.

While Haddon did extend his work to the creation for his ten countermeasures to fill that process void – watch for future blogs on those – it must be understood that the energy damage model is just one tool in a suite of tools to be considered when reviewing scenarios, work or incidents. But coupled with engaging in respectful and meaningful dialogue with the workers, it is still rated one of the top, and most used items in my safety professional kit bag.


Direct References
Haddon, W. (1972). A Logical Framework for Categorizing Highway Safety Phenomena and Activity. The Journal of Trauma, 12, 193 – 207.
Influential Prose
Moeller, D.W., (2009), Environmental Health. Harvard University Press
Pryor, P., Stone, C., & Else, D. (2005). Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner. Resource for BSBOHS403A. Hazard, Energy and Damage. Retrieved 28 September 2009 from
Viner, D. (1991). Accident Analysis and Risk Control. Carlton South, Victoria: DRJ Delphi DVPL


Tanya Conole is an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) qualified and experienced Health and Safety Professional. Tanya’s passion is the creation of a positive and informed OHS culture through both the systemic and behavioural management of safety as well as constructive interactions and communications across all parties; rising to engage people in what it takes to go home safely and then providing them the structural framework and empowerment to do so.

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