All workplaces need to control the risks to their workers, visitors and the public. If an organisation has 5 or more employees, it must document the risk assessment. If less than 5 employees, a risk assessment still has to be carried out, however it does not have to be recorded. It may be communicated verbally. There are 5 steps to controlling risks in the workplace, (1) Identify the hazards, (2) Decide who might be harmed and how, (3) Evaluate the risks, (4) Record the findings, (5) Review and update the assessment.
- Identify the hazards
To help identify the hazards, one must walk around the workplace and also ask employees what they consider the hazards are. If equipment is being used, one must check the manufacturers’ sheets so that employees are aware of the hazards. Previous ill health records and near misses should be re-visited so that lessons can be learned. This then can be part of the risk assessment in moving forward. Other non-routine functions such as maintenance and cleaning can also pose their own risks, so these must be part of the risk assessment as well.
- Decide who might be harmed and how
It is necessary to converse with employees at this stage, as most often they will be able to more easily identify the risks. This is because they are in direct contract with materials and work processes. Some workers may be more at risk due to the circumstances surrounding their employment. These include temporary workers, people with disabilities, persons whose first language is not English, young workers, isolated workers, expectant and new mothers. People who are also not regular visitors to the workplace such as maintenance workers and the public should be part of the risk assessment and control measures in place. These persons, not being part of the regular workforce, may not be aware of the risks/hazards.
- Evaluate the risks
The risk assessment will include what an employer / the self-employed are reasonably expected to know. The control measures include diminishing the risk with a less risky process. For example, substituting the use of a piece of equipment for a less dangerous piece of equipment to do the same job. Hazards can also be controlled by preventing access to them, i.e. access to certain areas by only trained personnel. Other ways of controlling the hazards include issuing protective equipment to workers, having welfare and fire stations nearby and organising the workplace so that exposure to the hazards are minimised. Involving workers is vital, as they can have quite a lot of information on daily work activities.
- Record the significant findings
A good way to record the risk assessment is to use a risk assessment template. This is a document with check boxes and areas for recording the risks and what’s to be done to control them. There are also on-line risk assessment tools that people can use.
- Renew/updating of the assessment
When the nature of the business or work environment changes, for example in construction, these new changes must be reflected in the risk assessment.