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What approach do I use?

It is a prerequisite for any further steps of the risk assessment process to identify and capture the hazards in your company. The hazards should always be determined on site at the individual workstations and including the employees concerned.

There are two methods for determining a hazard:

  • the direct (anticipatory or preventive) method, for example by means of on-site workstation visits and/or interviews, and
  • the indirect (retrospective) method, for example by means of accident investigations and/or investigation of work-related diseases.

Direct (anticipatory or preventive) method

Within the framework of the direct method, work systems and procedures are inspected for hazards that have not yet resulted in accidents. It is the top priority to preventively prevent industrial accidents and work-related diseases!

The direct determination of hazards includes six steps:

1. Determination of the relevant hazard factors

Determine all hazards and stresses (identified by hazard factors) that may affect the employees at the workstation. In so doing, flaws regarding the occupational health and safety management at the workplace favouring the occurrence of hazards must also be identified.

Please note:

More detailed information on the topic occupational health and safety management at the workplace can be found in the section What is the role of the organisation of the company?
More detailed information on hazard factors can be found in the section Expert knowledge.

2. Determination of the hazard sources

Determine the reason for the possible hazards – the hazard source.

3. Determination of the hazardous conditions

Determine the circumstances allowing for a contact point between hazard factor and human beings (hazardous conditions). These mostly are known conditions.

4. Consideration of specific performance prerequisites with the employees

Check whether specific individual performance prerequisites of the employees must be taken into consideration, e.g. for adolescents, elder employees, pregnant women, handicapped persons, or for employees not completely mastering the German language.


While some hazard factors are “not ageing-critical”, certain hazard factors must also be taken into consideration depending on the age of the employees.1)
For example, electrical hazards, hazardous substances, biological hazards, etc. must be deemed non-ageing-critical, while hazards resulting from specific physical influences (for example, whole-body or hand-arm vibrations), physical stresses (lifting and carrying of loads) and psychic stresses must be deemed ageing-critical.

5. Collection of information

Check whether there are provisions (laws, ordinances, accident prevention regulations, etc.) or technical rules laid down by the state or the occupational insurance association that must be observed (e.g. occupational exposure limits for hazardous substances).
If there are such specifications, these must be met!

In case of non-observance, protective measures must be taken immediately, see steps 4 and 5: Defining measures and
Executing measures.

6. Check whether there is a hazard

Check whether an identified injury-causing or disease-causing factor actually may affect the employees.

Indirect (retrospective) method

Accident investigations and more profound event analyses (root cause analysis)

Within the framework of the indirect method, findings from already occurred events, i.e. accidents and near misses, are included in the determination of the hazard. If the assessment is performed for the first time, these may also be events from other companies with comparable activities. Otherwise, this procedure is intended to update an existing risk assessment.

Deriving the sequence of events leading to the accident/determining the accident cause(s)

In order to learn from events and to find sustainable solutions, it is important to question the superficial causes and to determine the actual hidden causes. For this, the sequence of events leading to the accident should be reproduced by asking the following core questions:

1. What happened?
2. What took place?
3. Where did something go wrong and why did it go wrong?
4. Which main causes do we identify?
5. What can we do?

In many cases, it makes sense to perform more profound, holistic analyses exceeding "simple" accident investigations. They are particularly obvious for events entailing higher risks or that seem to be complex.

As a matter of principle, the following quality features are essential for all accident investigations, but particularly for more profound event analyses:

  • careful determination of all relevant factors
  • inclusion of employees involved/concerned and experts in the analysis process avoiding of accusations
  • consideration of indirect influences as well resulting from the company’s organisation, the work system, or from cultural aspects.

Assignment of hazard sources and hazardous conditions

The hazard sources and the conditions for them taking effect must be determined on the basis of the sequence of events leading to the accident and the determined actual causes.
It must be checked whether

  • hazard sources and conditions must be added and
  • protective measures must be expanded additionally and reconsidered regarding their efficiency, or
  • it seems to be advisable to re-design courses of procedures and work processes, as well as the protection concept.

When designing the courses of procedures and work processes as well as the protection concept, the main goal is to safely exclude hazard sources right from the beginning, for example by substituting hazardous substances or by ensuring an inherent process safety.

Sources of information

Instructions for investigating results and a process of finding a sustainable solution can specifically be found under the keyword “Root-Cause-Analysis” in information documents of consultancies regarding system and operational safety.

Information on events in other companies, as well as additional information on system and operational safety can be found on the websites

1) Source: "Alternsgerechte Arbeit gestalten", Arbeitshilfe IG Metall , NRW, Fankfurt am Main, 2007


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