Workplace risk assessment demystified

Ever wanted to conduct your own workplace risk assessment but don’t feel up to the task? Or maybe you have been trained on risk assessment but have never conducted one out of fear. Risk assessments typically should have 5 steps which I have combined into 3 to make it easier for you to understand. Conducting workplace risk assessment needs lots of patience and attention to detail. You don’t want to miss out on very important hazards. If they result in accidents then you could be held liable so take care and don’t be in a hurry!

First, let me explain the difference between hazards and risks. Lots of people tend to mix them up. To be honest, it can sometimes be confusing for beginners, but with time and practice, you will be able to tell the difference easily without giving it too much of a thought.

Hazards and risks – the difference:  Hazard is anything that can cause harm. Example is a trailing wire, heavy load, hot weather, use of chemicals, machinery etc.

Risk is the likelihood that that hazard can cause harm or result in injury. Example trips and falls due to the trailing wire; back injury from carrying heavy load; burns, dehydration and heat stroke from hot weather; burns from contact of chemical with skin; risks of amputation from moving parts of a machine etc. Risk has different levels which depends on how likely a person will be injured, how serious that injury will be and how many people will be directly affected. So you can class risks as low, medium or high. 

So let’s begin: You must record all your findings while conducting your risk assessment.

Stage 1 – Identify hazards: It is easy to overlook hazards if you don’t feel that can cause harm. Sometimes people believe that if they are careful then no harm will come to them. But take a step back and think deeply about the definition I gave for hazards and risks and analyse this phrase “anything that can cause harm” and “how many people will be directly affected”. You know to take care but what about others who could be affected? What about visitors to your workplace who are not used to the set-up and have no knowledge of your safety policies and procedures? What about the new staff who are still trying to find their feet in their new work environment? What about ……………. (get my drift?)

So when identifying hazards, don’t think only of yourself. Think of all those who might, will and could come in contact with the hazard and how. Next step is to evaluate the risk.

Stage 2 – Evaluate risk: To make it easy, use my definition  “likelihood that that hazard can cause harm or result in injury”. Think about the possibility of that hazard causing injury, think about how serious it could be and how many people will be affected. One very important thing to note is that one hazard can present many risks, so don’t assume you need to identity just one risk. After determining all this, you need to come up with control or corrective measures. The aim of this is to significantly reduce the risk and ensure a safer workplace and healthy workforce.

Stage 3 – Identify control measures and review: Here you have to decide how you are going to reduce the risk. There are options you have to follow in this order:

1. Complete removal or where applicable use a less risky substance;

2. prevent, reduce or control access to the hazard (for example, using a machine guard to guard moving parts, or having an “authorised persons only” room or area);

3. provide personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE should be the last thing you decide on as some activities/tasks do not need PPE

Share the findings of your risk assessment. Review the risk assessment – for example, when there is a new hazard, a change in legislation or an accident. Plan emergency procedures in case of exposures. You might never need them but it is important to have them in place. It is important to consult with staff carrying out the tasks you are assessing. They are more aware of the risks they face and can contribute significantly to the risk assessment.

Training: Remember to train your staff before exposing them to hazards and retrain them when they fail to carry out procedures safely. Please note: To carry out risk assessment you must be competent through training, knowledge and experience. Need risk assessment training? Visit my training page for information on training courses.