Risk assessment

The Australian Model WHS Laws require duty holders to assess and address risks in the workplace, but how do you perform an effective risk assessment? A competent person or team who have a good working knowledge of your workplace should do the assessment. Supervisors and employees who work with the processes under review are likely to be the most familiar with day-to-day operations and you should include them on the team or work with them to source information.

For this article, we provide a step-by-step guide on how to perform an effective risk assessment in your organisation to keep employees physically and psychologically safe. In this COVID-19 emergency, SafeWork Australia requires organisations to assess the risks of transmitting the disease through your workplace.

The purpose of a risk assessment is to meet your WHS obligations to eliminate risks where you can or control them when you can’t. Safe Work Australia notes that eliminating and controlling risks in the workplace helps to:

  • Prevent and reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries, illnesses and associated costs,
  • Promote and improve worker health, wellbeing and capacity to work, and
  • Foster innovation and improve the quality and productivity of work.

Identify Hazards

The first step to developing a risk assessment is to identify any hazards associated with the process. A visual inspection of your workplace while thinking about what may cause harm is where you start to create a list of tasks and hazards that need assessing.  You should consider:

  • How people work,
  • How you use plant and equipment,
  • The chemicals and substances you use,
  • Safe or unsafe work practices and
  • The general state of your work areas.

If you’re not sure your employees can correctly identify hazards, the Tap into Safety Platform offers interactive and engaging hazard awareness training online and on smart devices. We focus on critical risk and the common workplace hazards that can lead to a fatality or serious injury within industry-specific scenarios.

The Platform has over 30 out of the box training modules across a range of industry settings. If we don’t have what you need, we also build custom training content. If you’d like to know more, please contact us or click through to try a free online demo.

See our article, Can Employees Recognise, Recall and Report Workplace Hazards?

Include a Wide Range of Factors

When identifying hazards, the ISO 31000-2018 standard recommends that safety professionals and stakeholders examine a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Tangible and intangible sources of risk
  • Threats and opportunities
  • Causes and events
  • Consequences and their impact on objectives
  • Limitations of knowledge and reliability of the information
  • Vulnerabilities and capabilities
  • Changes in the external and internal context
  • Indicators of emerging risks
  • Time-related factors
  • Biases, assumptions and beliefs.

It’s crucial that you also keep in mind the specific needs of vulnerable employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public. Young workers, migrant workers and employees where English is not their first language, expectant mothers and people with a disability are vulnerable.

You should review all available health and safety information about the hazard such as Safety Data Sheet (SDS), manufacturers literature, information from reputable organisations, results of testing, and workplace inspection reports.

Finally, make sure you understand the minimum legislated requirements for your industry.

Assess the Risks

For each hazard that you identify, think about how they may harm your employees, contractors, visitors or members of the public. Keep in mind the changing work environment when non-routine tasks occur, for example, maintenance, cleaning, or changes in production cycles. It is also helpful to look at your past incident and health data to identify emerging and hidden hazards.

Assessing the level of risk is the next step in creating a risk assessment and is based on the severity and likelihood of harm. You need to determine:

  • Who might be harmed and how,
  • What you have in place to control the risks,
  • What further actions you may need to take to control the risks,
  • Who needs to carry out the actions, and
  • When the action is required.

Analyse the Risks

Step three requires you to analyse the risks you identify to prioritise actions based on your existing controls. You need to take into account any uncertainties, hazards, consequences, likelihood, events, scenarios, controls and their effectiveness. Remember, an event can have multiple causes and consequences and can affect various objectives and areas of your business.

There are tools such as risk assessment matrices and heat maps can you can use to compare hazards to determine the highest-level risks so that you can prioritise what to tackle first.

It is important to keep in mind that a risk assessment must take into account not only the current state of the workplace but any potential situations as well.

See our article, 8 Workplace Hazards That Can Kill.

Control the Risks

To create a risk assessment, you must always try to eliminate the risk. If this is not reasonably practicable, you must minimise the risk by working through the other alternatives in the hierarchy of controls. Successfully controlling risks in your workplace is step four.

If you can’t eliminate the risk and you need to draw on the other controls, you should consider:

  • Redesigning the job,
  • Replacing the materials, machinery or process,
  • Organising your work to reduce exposure to the materials, machinery or process, and
  • Implementing practical measures needed to work safely.

As a last resort, use administrative controls and PPE. However, they are the least effective at reducing risk because they do not control the hazard at the source and rely on human behaviour and supervision.

See our article, Workplace Hazards and the Hierarchy of Controls.

Review the Controls

In step five, you need to review the controls you have put in place to make sure that they are working. You should also consider their effectiveness if you have changes to your work, including new employees, alterations to work processes, and when you introduce new substances and equipment.

It’s also critical to note any incidents or near misses because they may highlight gaps in your control measures. You may need additional controls or to change the way you carry out those tasks. Also, after an incident, you may find that what you thought wasn’t a high-level hazard, quickly gains an increased risk-rating.

Communicate the Risks

The final step is to communicate the risks that you identify to everyone. They need to have a comprehensive understanding of the existing risks and how to prevent or mitigate them to achieve your organisational objectives.

To Conclude

It is critical that you undertake a risk assessment across your work areas to ensure that you effectively control physical and psychological hazards. The purpose is to keep your employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public safe. A risk assessment includes six steps: identifying hazards, assessing the risk, analysing the risk to prioritise what to tackle first, controlling the risk, reviewing the controls to ensure that they remain effective, and communicating the risks to everyone. In this COVID-19 emergency, organisations have additional requirements to manage the risks of transmitting the disease through their workplaces.

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