Using the Energy Wheel will help you find more hazards at the jobsite.
By Jim Wright
What if there was a simple and free tool that can help you train employees to identify hazards in their work area?
Photo courtesy Terracon Consultants Inc. in Olathe, Kansas.
There is such a tool. The Energy Wheel.
Energy-based hazard identification is not new. Using energy sources to identify hazards in the work area has been used as a hazard identification tool by many companies for quite some time. The concept is to use these main sources of energy to identify hazards in the workplace.
Studies show that workers only identify about 45%, not even half, of the hazards in their work area during pre-job safety briefings. Those who use the Energy Wheel, however, find up to 30% more hazards in the work area during pre-task planning. The Energy Wheel is effective because it provides a simple set of reminders to search for hazards that are commonly overlooked.
Every injury is the result of an unwanted release of and contact with one or more energy sources. To understand how energy contributes to injuries, you need to know a little bit about energy and how your brain sees and evaluates energy as a hazard.
Defining Energy Sources
It is important to note that this is an Energy Wheel, not a Hazard Wheel. Each spoke of the wheel (Table 1) represents the most common energy sources on a construction site.
Identifying the energy source allows you to think about the hazards associated with that energy source and then take steps to control that hazard.
For example, seeing an overhead power line signals an electrical energy source. As a groundwater contractor, you immediately think about the hazard of raising the mast into the line and maintaining the appropriate distance from the line to protect yourself. Use the Energy Wheel as a reminder tool to find the energy sources in your work area.
“Seeing” Energy Sources and Associated Hazards
There are two types of energy—kinetic and potential. Kinetic energy is moving. A bouncing ball, rotating drill rod, or wet concrete moving through a chute or hose. Kinetic energy is easy to identify because it is moving. Potential energy is stored energy. A section of rebar under tension, a hose filled with pressurized water, or a hot skillet sitting on the stove.
Can you look at any of these examples and see the energy? No, but all those examples have energy waiting to be released and cause injury.
Kinetic energy is much easier to identify than potential energy. Motion, mechanical, or gravity are energy sources associated with movement. Movement is easy for our brains to “see.” Chemical, sound, pressure, electrical, temperature, radiation, and biological are potential energy sources—easy to overlook, and much harder to identify.
So how do we train our brains to see potential energy sources and then take steps to protect ourselves from the hazards they hold?
- Identify the common potential energy sources in your work area. For example, if you work around ovens, stay extra focused on temperature.
- Focus on what can kill you and always assume it can. Many potential energy sources are highly hazardous, if not life-threatening. Electricity is a good example. If you see an extension cord plugged-in to the wall, always assume it’s energized.
- Refresh your memory of potential energy sources by using the Energy Wheel while scanning your work area. Look for energy sources you might not normally see.
Step 1. Using the Energy Wheel in Pre-Task Planning
Workers who use the Energy Wheel find up to 30% more hazards in the work area during pre-task planning.
So how is that done? Simple: Have the Energy Wheel in your hand and walk through each energy source as you pre-task plan on the jobsite. Ask yourself, “Is there any mechanical energy on this site?” Then scan the site looking for mechanical energy. Repeat this for each spoke on the wheel.
It’s important to realize the energy source is not the hazard—it is the source of the hazard. For example, electricity is not the hazard. The worn-out extension cord containing the electrical energy is the hazard.
One common question comes from this activity. Can a single object have multiple energy sources? Absolutely! For example, an acetylene cylinder used with a cutting torch contains pressure and chemical energy, and gravity could cause it to fall over if not secured.
Motion, mechanical, and gravity are also commonly grouped together. A crane hoisting a load over a jobsite also has each of these energy types. What steps need to be taken to protect you and your crew from hazards created by each energy source?
Practice with an Energy Wheel exercise. Try to identify hazards without using the Energy Wheel. Don’t cheat! Then repeat the exercise using the Energy Wheel as a guide. How many more hazards do you notice?
Step 2. Identifying Hazards That Pose a Threat
There are probably hundreds of hazards on big jobsites. Pick the ones that pose an immediate hazard to your work and don’t forget nearby ones that could pose a hazard if conditions should change.
A crane that was idle may start operating. A storm forecasted may roll through. A truck may show up and begin unloading equipment. Pre-task plan for your work and changing conditions. Repeat pre-task planning throughout the day.
Step 3. Controlling Hazards
Identifying hazards is important, but unless you take steps to control those hazards and protect yourself and those around you, there is still a risk. Take steps to control the hazards that pose a concern to your work. If you can’t figure out a way to control the hazard, stop work and work with a supervisor or other subject matter expert on a safe path forward to complete your work.
Using the Energy Wheel is a simple and effective way to increase hazard identification in the workplace. Begin by providing your workers the Energy Wheel graphic and training them on looking for energy sources.
Follow up with training on controlling hazards in the workplace. Workers will begin to proactively notice and control more hazards, work safer, and reduce injuries.
Energy Wheel Exercises and Resources
Matthew Hallowell, Ph.D. 2021. “The Energy Wheel: Review of the Art and Science of Energy-Based Hazard Recognition.” Professional Safety 66, no. 12: 27-33.
William Haddon Jr. 1973. “Energy Damage and the Ten Countermeasure Strategies.” Journal of Trauma 13: 321-333.
Learn More About Energy-Based Hazard Identification and Trench Safety
Jim Wright details more about energy-based hazard identification and trench safety for the water well industry in the latest NGWA: Industry Connected video
Jim Wright is director of safety and health and senior principal at Terracon Consultants Inc. in Olathe, Kansas. Wright has been with Terracon since 2016 and prior to that worked in safety management at multiple drilling companies. He received the 2012 NGWA Safety Advocate Award, chaired and served on the NGWA Safety Task Force multiple times, and regularly presents safety workshops at Groundwater Week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.