An Introductory Guide to Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is an in-depth examination of your workplace to detect factors that could cause harm. These are known as hazards. These potential causes range from tasks and processes to tools and things used in the work environment.
Risks are how likely different types of harm are likely to occur. Risk assessments play a central role in any organisation’s risk management plan. Organisations need to take measures to control or minimise risks if elimination isn’t possible.
Therefore, a risk assessment will encompass all of the above steps, from identifying hazards to reviewing risks and then working out ways to control them. Risk assessments are typically undertaken in a systematic, structured way to ensure a thorough review.
What’s the purpose of a risk assessment in the workplace?
All workplaces have hazards, and work-related injuries aren’t uncommon. The goal of a risk assessment is to improve the understanding of risks and prevent harm, such as injuries and illness. They must be supported by putting the control measures into place and training and supervising staff where appropriate.
Risk assessments also help with emergency safety management plans, to minimise or avoid harm in the case of emergencies like fires. It can also identify requirements for training so staff have the skills and knowledge to work safely. Creating a safer workplace can lead to other outcomes, like better morale and cost savings from lowered turnover and absenteeism.
Related to this is fulfilling compliance and regulatory duties. Organisations are legally required to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for employees and others who may be on the premises. Without a risk assessment, they might fail to take appropriate measures to keep everyone safe. They might fall short of their duties and obligations.
Risk assessments should be recorded in detail, for evidence the organisation has made an effort to eliminate, prevent, and minimise risks.
The importance of risk assessments in the workplace
Risk assessments have direct benefits for businesses and other organisations. These include:
- Identifying and controlling hazards in your premises for better safety and compliance.
- Enhancing awareness of safety standards and practices among your workforce.
- Encouraging everyone in the organisation to focus on safety issues and to direct more resources to enhance safety.
- Better risk management standards.
- Fulfilling legal requirements and reducing compliance risks and costs.
- Minimising and eliminating accidents in the workplace.
- Showing employees you care about their safety and health, and boosts morale and loyalty in the process.
- Cost savings from fewer business interruptions along with improved processes and performance.
- Better safety standards can improve reputation and brand while poor standards can lead to reputational damage.
When to do a risk assessment
You’ll want to undertake risk assessments whenever there are given triggers like changes in your workplace. These can include altered work tasks or procedures, upgraded equipment and tools, and new chemicals or substances. New staff and employees with medical conditions can also be triggers for doing a review.
If there has been a near miss or an accident, you might carry out a risk assessment to work out how to prevent the occurrence from happening again. You could decide to do a risk assessment if you have any level of uncertainty about the impact of a hazard, whether new or preexisting.
If you introduce certain high-risk activities to your workplace, you might be obligated under the WHS regulations to do a risk assessment. These activities could include entering confined spaces, diving work, and tasks involving live electrical wiring.
How to conduct a risk assessment
A methodical risk assessment empowers you with an organised approach to managing risk. In turn, this helps you meet your obligation to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.
A good starting point is to review the key elements of a thorough risk assessment.
Inspect your workplace. Identify any process, task, or element that could cause harm. Analyse the tasks, tools, materials, substances, and equipment in the environment. Interview employees and ask them about any hazards they’ve encountered. Encourage them to report relevant incidents.
Examine how things are done on-site rather than relying on manuals or procedures to visualise tasks and processes. You can also draw your organisation’s work health and safety records, safety data sheets from manufacturers, and advice from safety consultants or relevant industry groups to identify potential hazards.
Once you’ve listed the hazards, assess the level of risk. How likely is the risk to happen, from certain or possible to very likely to unlikely or rare? How serious could it be? From visitors to employees, who could be at risk of injury? List all the possible types of harm, whether psychological or physical. Consider the types of injuries, the nature of the damage, and the interaction of different factors.
One approach, for example, is to work out when and where things can start to go wrong. Then, from there, ask what could happen next, until you’ve considered all the potential risks.
Check the effectiveness of your current control measures and work out what needs to be changed. What can you do to control these risks or eliminate them? Obtain suggestions from your employees for improvements.
Always aim to eliminate the risk. However, a level of risk is inevitable where elimination isn’t possible. Identify the most effective control measures that can be applied given the circumstances. This could involve using safer equipment, isolating a hazard, or changing a task in some way.
Record your risk assessments every time you carry them out. Your report should detail the hazards, risks, and control measures. This report should be made available to everyone in the organisation.
Your control and management measures need to stay up to date with changes in your workplace. Do a new risk assessment whenever you introduce new tasks, hire new employees, or have other changes.
Risk assessment templates
An ordered approach ensures you address everything when conducting a risk assessment. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to utilise risk assessment templates.
These templates are useful tools because they guide your systematic analysis of hazards and allow you to record the assessment in a visual, structured form. They prompt you to document the likelihood of occurrence, consequences of possible incidents and recommended control measures. These templates may incorporate text, graphs, or charts to visualise the risk.
They’re excellent for creating a paper trail that could support regulatory compliance and investigations. They also help organisations communicate their risks and management methods internally.
You can develop your own templates or use samples:
- ISO 31000 risk register and SECTARA Threat Criteria Template
- Templates from WorkSafe Queensland
- Checklist by SafeWork NSW
- Template from the Department of Finance
- Deakin University Office Work template
- WorkSafe Victoria Workplace template
Hazards in the workplace have the potential to cause serious injury and harm and even death. With regular risk assessments, you can identify these hazards, assess their risk levels, and take measures to keep them under control if not eliminate them. Risk assessment training can empower your staff to undertake effective risk assessments that make your workplace safer and keep you compliant with regulations.
Cloud Assess offers you a powerful tool for staying on top of your workplace training. It includes modules for seamless integration with on-the-job training, giving your staff an engaging learning experience and enabling training and assessing in the course of their everyday work.
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