What is Your Business WHS Risk Profile?

WHS risk profile

Every business is unique and determining your WHS risk profile requires an understanding of the work your staff does and the critical hazards to which they, and the business, are exposed to.

Contributory factors that predict the business WHS risk profile include the level of knowledge of legal WHS requirements to ensure that:

  1. The various sources of potential hazards are recognised,
  2. The options for risk mitigation appropriately prioritised, and
  3. The role of a hierarchy of control principles is appreciated in selecting the most appropriate and cost-effective hazard elimination or risk minimisation solution.

A WHS risk profile is uniquely specific to each business because organisational contexts and vulnerabilities differ. It is defined by the critical hazards that expose workers, and the business, to harm. Identifying these critical hazards is the starting point for considering, selecting, implementing and evaluating the appropriate WHS risk management controls. This article details the key points in a Safe Work Australia Report that discusses the measurement and reporting of WHS in Australian Businesses to guide how to create a WHS risk profile.

Hazard Identification

Key concepts of the WHS cycle include hazard identification, risk management and outcome analysis. Safe Work Australia defines hazard identification as:

The processes by which threats to health and safety of workers, community and supply chain are identified, evaluated and prioritised.

A hazard is a particular object, activity or situation that poses a risk of harm to a person, property or the environment, e.g. trip hazards, rock fall, flammable substances. It is important that businesses have a clear understanding of the work they do and how it is actually done, rather than the perception of how it should be done. Hazards are often the result of multiple causes, both inside and outside of the business. Sources include technical, human and organisational factors. Many hazards are dormant, or latent but may carry a potential risk of harm, e.g. poor housekeeping leading to an increased likelihood of injuries as a result of a fall.

Importantly, there is a positive relationship between management efforts to identify and control WHS risk and the frequency and severity of work-related injury and illness.

See our article, How to Choose Effective Hazard Control Measures.

Risk Management

Safe Work Australia defines risk management as:

The efforts made to address threats to the health and safety of workers (employed by the business or along the supply chain), and community (e.g. bystanders).

Risk management includes:

  • Sound WHS hazard identification and risk management conducted by management in consultation with workers,
  • Strong leadership with a robust safety culture, and
  • Effective mechanisms of WHS oversight and control.

However, Risk Management has limitations. Many businesses still adhere to what was popular in the last century in applying a score to assess and prioritise risk. Safe Work Australia suggests that using risk matrices to apply a rating to hazards is often misleading and counterproductive due to their limited scientific evidence, personal bias and error. In many cases, the risk is vastly under-estimated and the incidence of hazard is treated as unlikely with low severity.

The Hierarchy of Controls is a framework that is supported by safety professionals around the world for injury prevention. It is the foundation of Risk Management that begins with the recommendation of eliminating or removing the hazards that cause illness or injury. However, eliminating the hazard is not always reasonable and when this cannot be achieved, the Hierarchy recommends taking actions to minimise, as much as possible, the potential for harm to anyone and to monitor and address any residual risk of harm.

See our short training course Hierarchy of Controls which takes you through the pyramid step-by-step and provides working example of each level.

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

Outcome Analysis

Safe Work Australia suggests outcome analysis is analysing how successfully the business has performed with respect to WHS performance outcomes including:

  • safety performance (hazard elimination/minimisation),
  • injury performance (injury prevention), and
  • financial performance (cost-effectiveness).

Records, in one form or the another, assist in this measurement including training records, board attendance records etc. Identifying KPI’s that have the potential to guide improvement
in performance ensures data is collected, reported and adds value by shedding light on important issues and informing important decisions. The more mature an organisation’s WHS culture, the more likely the business is to: carefully select KPI’s that provide clear signals to action; track the KPI’s routinely; and report regularly on the results to management. The most effective way to guide the analysis and determine the business WHS risk profile is to ask the right questions. Here are some examples of both lead and lag indicators:

How do we help improve knowledge of WHS?

  1. Provide information via inductions, board briefings and training sessions.
  2. Provide access to an up-to-date risk register.
  3. Provide subscriptions to high-quality legal/professional/industry alert services.

How do we verify that the knowledge of WHS is adequate?

  1. Observe engagement at inductions, briefings and training sessions.
  2. Assess knowledge, e.g. survey, performance review or evaluate contributions to risk assessments and WHS performance reviews etc.

What processes and systems ensure knowledge of WHS is adequate?

  1. Record attendance at inductions, briefings and training sessions.
  2. Ensure briefing/training are provided by persons with appropriate expertise.
  3. Ensure the risk register is up-to-date (e.g. review schedule with accountability assigned).

The Importance of Regular WHS Training

The recommendations clearly demonstrate the priority and importance of WHS training and delivery methods to ensure engagement, relevance and domain expertise within the WHS risk profile. Business is required to train specifically about workplace hazards and continue to monitor competency and knowledge about the best way to control workplace hazards as part of ensuring understanding of WHS. Tap into Safety can help.

When managers rely on their own expertise to determine how best to control a hazard, they run the risk of missing something of vital importance. When we build content in our safety training solution we draw on the Regulations, Codes of Practice and Publications published by the Regulator to ensure the training content is informed by best practice and that it complies with the regulatory requirements.

Research across a number of disciplines shows that engagement and interactivity are the keys to embedding knowledge and influence on work health and safety behaviour (click here for research on the effectiveness of using mobile devices to train).

Tap into Safety offers interactive and engaging work health and safety training that is delivered via smart devices and online. We use real workplace photographic, panoramic examples that workers relate to because they show their worksites governed by the required regulations for their industry. If you’d like to know more please click through and try a free online demo.

Developing Your WHS Risk Profile

Understanding of the cause and effect relationships between specific WHS hazards and work-related injury and illness has grown in the past two decades. Businesses are now focusing on developing a WHS risk profile to address areas that require additional efforts. Issues to consider when identifying potential WHS risks include:

The source of risks (work-related hazards):

  • The type of organisation, product and/or service and the nature of the work undertaken (what injures people),
  • The market the organisation operates in (including supply chain considerations), and
  • Potential organisational vulnerabilities (structural, managerial, operational and cultural).

Confirmation of the conclusions:

  • Has the event (or a similar event) occurred previously – here or elsewhere?
  • Has it occurred in a similar situation?
  • Does the cause-effect relationship make such an event appear probable?

Once potential sources of WHS hazards are identified, a WHS risk profile can then be developed by considering:

  • The nature and level of threats faced,
  • The potential consequence of these adverse events,
  • The likelihood of the adverse events occurring, and
  • The effectiveness of the preventative controls that are in place.

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