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Walking the tightrope: Have you assessed the risks properly?

A risk assessment is the first step in risk management. It is about identifying the risks and laying down the control measures. For specific risks there is other specific regulations that also need to be adhered to, but the general approach to risk is the same in all situations. One of the first steps, for example, when working with machinery or chemicals is to check the manufacturers’ data sheets as they will be informative about the risks. Accident reports can provide useful information on the likelihood of specific risks occurring. There may also be different risks that could occur during cleaning and maintenance. When exposed to some risks for a short period of time there may not be danger to health, however, when exposed for longer periods of time, for example, exposure to noise, there may be long term health risks. A stepwise approach to risk assessment for small and medium size businesses is below:

  1. The hazards should be identified and those at risk identified
  2. The risks should be evaluated (i.e is the risk high or low)
  3. The actions to mitigate against the risks should be put forward
  4. The control measures should be put in place
  5. The risks should be reviewed as appropriate and monitored

1. The hazards should be identified and those at risk identified

Workers should be consulted as they may know first-hand what risks are being encountered in the daily work role; these risks may not be immediately apparent to management or someone on the outside coming in to do a risk assessment. It should be observed how tasks are actually carried out in the workplace; this may be different from the manual. Changes in production cycles, cleaning and maintenance should all be risk assessed. The aspects of work with the potential to cause harm (i.e the hazads) should be identified. It should also be considered how workers interact with these hazards and thereby affect the overall risk. It should be considered how one worker affects others, for example, one worker painting will not only expose himself/herself to fumes but others also.

2.  The risks should be evaluated

Some workplace risks will be already known and readily identified. For workplaces of low risk, for example, an office, the control measures may be readily available. For high risk processes, for example a chemical plant, there would need to be a detailed health and safety risk assessment. The extent of harm should be considered, which could range, for example, from minor damage to multiple fatalities. The possibility scale of risk occurring could be improbable, possible (but not very likely), probable, inevitable (over time).

3.  The actions to mitigate against the risks should be put forward

The objective of this step is to provide protection for the worker. Referring to good practice and the law should be used as a guideline. New control measures need to be introduced if the risks are new or the old risks are now higher. Preventative measures should not pose any further risk, but provide health and safety protection for the workers. The decisions regarding the control of the risks should be made during the early stages of the work process, for example, at the design or purchasing stages.

4. The control measures should be put in place

The work needed to be done to prevent or eliminate the risks should be prioritised. This depends on the severity of the risk and the likely outcome of an incident. So, the conclusions of the risk assessment should be to identify if the risk is adequately controlled, the options for reduction of risk and risk priority, others affected and whether steps could be taken to improve the level of protection offered to workers.

5. The risks should be reviewed as appropriate and monitored

As workplaces hardly ever stay exactly the same, for example, when new equipment and substances are introduced. These could lead to new hazards. Changes, accidents and near misses in the workplace should be investigated and the risk assessment reviewed.

Sources    hse.gov.uk     osha.europa.eu

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