Understanding Workplace Risk Assessment

Safety and health should remain our top priorities when accomplishing our day to day tasks. Our decisions on the actions we take should be primarily based on ‘how safe’ they are.

When you prioritize safety, it means you assess risks. For instance, when crossing the road, you have to ensure there are no oncoming vehicles to avoid a possible accident.

Whether employed or self-employed, workplace risk assessment is crucial in business or workplace. People will work better when they are sure of their safety at the workplace.

A safe workplace also remains productive all year long because a team remains intact and no one has to spend weeks or months in a hospital.

Furthermore, an employer doesn’t have to answer to prolonged lawsuits and spend thousands in hospital bills treating and compensating injured workers.

But as mentioned earlier, you can only stay safe if you assess potential dangers in detail. 

In this article, we will get a deeper understanding of a risk assessment, its importance and why we need it.

What Is Risk Assessment?

Risk assessment is a process that involves identifying hazards to analyze and evaluate possible risks within a workplace, and then come up with reasonable control measures to limit or do away with them.

To get a clear understanding of what workplace risk assessment is, we have to define the following keywords first:

  • An accident- an unplanned occurrence that leads to injury or loss of lives
  • A hazard- anything that can cause harm
  • A risk- it’s the likelihood of occurrence of something negative like an injury from a hazard.
  • Risk analysis- It involves understanding the complexity of hazards to determine or estimate the magnitude of the risk.
  • Risk evaluation- it involves comparison between estimated risk and actual risk to establish its significance.

As discussed earlier, safety is paramount in the workplace. A risk assessment ensures any given activity or task in the workplace is safe.  

Every business owner should consider the health and safety of every employee. As the owner, you should identify possible risks in the business that can cause harm to your employees.

Once you identify possible harmful risks, take effective control measures to enhance safety at you workstation. Control measures include providing the correct gear and first aid assistance to respond swiftly to the few injury cases.

Forms of Hazard and Risk Assessments

Hazard and risk assessment vary based on the scope of the risk to be analyzed and the goal of the analysis itself.

The three main forms of risk assessments are as follows;

  • General risk assessments
  • Issue-specific risk assessments
  • Continuous  risk assessments

Because risk assessment and improvement is a never ending process, these forms of assessment are useful in different ways and can be used interchangeably to achieve different risk analysis needs.

Let’s dig deeper into the details of these kinds of hazards assessments to understand their critical role in ensuring safe working environments.

  1. General risk assessment.

It is the first assessment conducted to gauge workplace risks. Its purpose is to view the broad spectrum of the risk. Examples include fire hazard assessments, hygiene risk survey, and health risk surveys.

Some issues can be highlighted based on the findings of the general assessment. It must be evaluated from time to time to re-determine the general risk profile and reduce arising risks in a business. 

Its role is to prioritize an action program for issue-specific assessments. Organizations can use it to determine the types and magnitude of possible hazards that could significantly impact their entire business.

It identifies the major risks, helps in prioritization of these, and evaluation of the usefulness of existing risk mitigation strategies. 

Organizations must understand that a general assessment is an early risk assessment that seeks to understand the broad spectrum of the risk to help in succeeding assessments.

This form of assessment concentrates on spotting all the risks that apply to an entire project or firm. It can be carried out on a site, location or national level on any processes or tasks of an organization.

A well conducted general risk assessment must be far-reaching and in most cases lead to further investigations.

  • Issue-specific risk assessment.

This refers to when general risk assessments are reviewed in detail using the various analysis techniques such as the Fault Tree and HAZOC.

It is conducted to highlight issues such as new procedures, tools and machines or as part of the continuing assessments in a business.

Issue-specific hazard identification and risk assessment seeks to carry out an in-depth assessment that results in the creation of courses of action that can help alleviate or eliminate major hazards and risk.

This form of hazard assessment focuses on task activities, daily processes and business operations. Its goal is to detect the risks linked to a specific set of activities often due to the management of change.

  • Continuous risk assessments.

These risk assessments feature in all kinds of official and informal analysis of the day-to-day risks in an organization. They usually occur on a regular basis.

 Organizations carry out this form of assessment to;

  • Identify risks with the aim to act immediately upon major risks
  • Collect info to give  feedback to issue-specific risk assessments
  • Collect info to give feedback to general risk assessments

 Continuous risk assessments, like their name suggests must be carried out from time to time in a project, office or workstation.

These assessments are important in improving safety levels in an organization and should be made part of day-to-day management efforts. 

Most organizations use continuous risk assessments to lay emphasis on daily risk awareness and instant corrective action.  In creating risk awareness, reminders such as checklist-guided inspections and critical path analyses can be used.

Continuous analyses are carried out at operational level where tasks and procedures are scrutinized continuously by the first line of supervision. This process must not be complicated and should be left for the first line of risk supervisors.

It is advisable to assign this role to staff with formal education and training in hazard identification and risk awareness.

When to Undertake a Risk Assessment & What to Consider?

Workplace risk assessment primarily aims at preventing a potential hazard at a given workplace from causing an injury or ill-health to the workers (and others). Thus, it should always be done before executing tasks or activities in work.

Carrying out risk assessments before executing tasks or activities in the workplace ensures potential hazards are identified, eliminated or managed to low levels to avoid harm to the immediate persons.

It’s important to carry out risk assessments before significant changes are incorporated to existing activities. For instance, when there is change in equipment, machinery or new info on potential hazards within the workplace.

Carrying out a risk assessment is a legal requirement to both the employer and the self-employed. The employer should conduct a suitable assessment of:

  • The risks exposure of all the employees including anything that is a threat to their health and safety like exposure to Bloodborne pathogens.
  • Health and safety risks that could be posing a threat to other people not in the workplace but emanating from the activities at work.

On the other hand, every self-employed person should conduct a suitable assessment of:

  • The level of risks to their safety and health while working.
  • Safety and health risks that could be posing a threat to other people not in his employment, emanating from his works activities.

Even after completing your risk assessments, hazard levels should be reviewed periodically in response to possible changes or in cases of ill-heath, incidents or accidents from potential hazards.

This could help to establish the effectiveness of control measures and level of the risk, and help determine whether an amendment could be suitable.

What to Consider When Carrying out a Risk Assessment?

When you are doing an assessment, it’s important to consider the following factors;

  • Take into account the technicalities in the workplace; for example processing procedures, handling of different substances and storage.
  • How long an activity or a task takes to be done.
  • Locations where tasks and activities are executed.
  • The educational background of all the workers.
  • Reactions portrayed by the workers at different situations, for instance, how they react when the lights go out while working.
  • Get a clear data of all activities within the workplace and whether they would affect others.
  • The number of workers who might be exposed, the kind of exposure and the tendency by which the exposure might happen.
  • The measures and control procedures in place meant to reduce such exposure,
  • The type of equipment, machinery and tools used in the workplace. Also, take into account how they are used and the kind of operation they execute.

These factors are not time bound; they should not only focus on the current state of the business or workplace. Instead, they should change as things changes

Considering these factors can ensure you carry out a complete workplace risk assessment.

How Do You Perform a Successful Risk Assessment?

You might not notice it, but you successfully assess risks daily. Some of our daily activities pose great danger in our lives whether in the workplace or at home.

The workplace requires a well-established risk assessment as required by the law. This aims at preventing any occurrence of harm or injury to the employees

For a successful risk assessment process the following five steps are recommended. They include:

  1. Identifying hazards
  2. Identifying who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluating the risks and establishing suitable control measures
  4. Recording and documenting the findings
  5. Reviewing and updating the assessment

Let’s discuss the steps in detail, to understand the suitability and completeness of the five steps in risk assessment:

Step 1: Identify Hazards

Every workplace has hazards that could cause harm to anyone who comes into contact with them. The first step should be to identify any potential hazards within the workplace.

At times, identifying hazards may turn to be difficult. With the following simple steps, this task can be easier:

  • Through observation- you can take a keen observation around the working environment noting the activities, equipment used or substances that could be hazardous to the employees.
  • Going through records of previous accidents and hazardous occurrences that have been documented.
  • Strictly read follow guiding instruction and information from manufacturer’s data sheets.
  • Involving employees and others executing activities, tasks and processes in the workplace.

Step 2: Identify Who Might Be Harmed

The next step is on identifying those who might be harmed or affected by hazards from your business. Try to even establish how they were harmed or affected by the hazardous occurrences.

Hazards can harm either people within the workplace or those outside the workplace. For instance, gases and dust can harm a great deal of people who are either in the workplace or not.

Thus, you should identify those harmed in groups for the purpose of recording and establishing effective risk assessment procedures. For example, you can group them in two major categories, that is, staff and non-staff.

Note that certain hazards may pose different risks on specific groups of people. For example, some hazards pose high risks to children, pregnant women, new employees and home workers.

Thus, depending on where you are working from, always consider other people beyond your employees.

Step 3: Evaluate the Risks and Come up with Suitable Control Measures.

After identifying the hazards and those harmed, evaluate the likelihood the risk poses to cause harm. Then come up with suitable control measures to minimize the risk to a reasonable and acceptable level.

Risk evaluation puts into consideration all factors enhancing safe and healthy working places. These factors include:

  • The likelihood of the occurrence of harm
  • How severe harm could be if it occurs
  • How well you are informed about the reducing, eliminating and controlling hazards and risks.
  • The presence of control measures meant to eliminate, limit or manage the risk.
  • Expenses linked with the control measures meant to eliminate, limit or manage the risks.

Step 4: Record and Document the Findings.

It’s a legal requirement to keep a record of significant findings on an assessment form. This can be done either in writing or electronically.

The records are important for future reference and keeping track of hazardous situations and measures to mitigate potential risks in the workplace. The risk assessment form for the records includes:

  • Hazards identified
  • Those who were affected
  • Measures put in place to manage the risk and person(s) monitoring them
  • When the assessment was done
  • The person(s) who carried out the assessment

Note that a written risk assessment can be handy when communicating possible potential hazards and measures put in place to mitigate them.

Step 5: Review and Update the Assessment.

This is the final step to a complete risk assessment. Ensure you review your assessments and update control measures where necessary.

Reviewing is quite necessary due to unexpected changes that arise often within the workforce or the workplace. The need to review assessments may depend on the following factors:

  • Change in your work system
  • Reports of near-miss accidents
  • Change in health and safety regulations
  • Rise in mechanical or technical problems
  • Introduction of new equipment or tech.
  • Occurrence of ill-health incidents or accidents

What Are the Consequences of Failing to Undertake a Risk Assessment?

Carrying out a workplace risk assessment is a mandatory requirement by the law for businesses with more than five employees. It’s the duty of the employer to ensure employees are protected from possible accidents or harm within the workplace.

Failing to carry out risk assessments can be quite consequential to a business. Besides causing harm or injury to your staff, other consequences include:

  • It’s costly to replace workers who are off work due to injuries or ill health emanated from potential hazards within the workplace.
  • It will cost you to compensate or pay bills for those injured or got sick from hazardous situations at the workplace.
  • In cases where employees are more than five, failure to assess risks can attract law enforcers in your business. Remember, it’s a legal requirement to undertake a risk assessment.
  • Also, failure to assess risks can attract fines or intervention charges, or face a possible prosecution.
  • When your business has claims or fines to deal with, there is an automatic rise in insurance costs.
  • When workers realize their working conditions are not safe, or have their colleagues injured, their morale in work lowers drastically leading to low work output.
  • There will be a high turnover within the work. Most of the workers will leave work due to injuries, ill-health or even to look for safer work places.

What’s the Critical Role of Hazard and Risk Assessment?

In the workplace, the overall management of health and safety fully incorporates sufficient risk assessment processes.

Carrying out a risk assessment ensures there are safe and healthy conditions within the workplace. Protection to employees and other people who might be affected is enhanced through proper risk assessment.

Other importance of carrying out workplace risk assessments is that they help you:

  • Identify hazards and risks emanating from the activities in the workplace.
  • Identify and protect person(s) who might be at risk
  • Decide on suitable control measure and programs for certain potential hazards
  •  Determine the usefulness of existing control measures and come up with more sufficient ones.
  • Meet the law as required on safety and health management in businesses.
  • Avoid cases of injury or ill health from within the workplace or outside.
  • Come up with additional control measures and improvements on safety and health of the employees (and others).

More to this, by carrying out sufficient risk assessment in your business, you instill confidence in your employees. They will work without fear and minimal complains about their life safety.

Such is a great way to create a conducive and productive environment for your business.

Assessing Risks for Compliance Purposes

Risk assessment is important for an employer or organization for compliance reasons. Remember an organization or business takes liability if a staff is injured at work and you could respond to deadlier lawsuits if they are injured because of your failure to comply with occupational safety rules.

Staffs have a right to a safe working environment. It is the employer’s duty to assess all the hazards and risk of a workplace and take corrective action to boost up safety levels.

Determining your full risk profile can help you identify and take action against hidden dangers that can harm staff while on duty and lead to expensive court cases.

Ignorance has never been defense in a court of law, if workers are injured because you didn’t notice that an activity was potentially dangerous to their wellbeing then it means you did not do a comprehensive risk assessment.

Final Words

Risk assessment is a process that involves identifying hazards to analyze and evaluate possible risks within a workplace, and then come up with reasonable control measures to limit or do away with them.

You can conduct workplace risk assessment in three different ways; general risk assessment, issue-specific risk assessment and continuous risk assessment.

These three types of hazard and risk analysis are all useful in determining the real risk profile and making the necessary changes.

Failure to assess risks can lead to cases of injured workers and interruption in activities in the event of uncertainties like fire.

Risks should be assessed from time to time to accommodate the risks brought by new process or machines.