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What you need to know: Hazard identification and risk assessment
The foundation of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) in any sector is a comprehensive risk management strategy.
This is the key to eliminating or, if this isn’t possible, reducing the number of hazards in your workplace, so that all employees can benefit from a risk-free environment.
A basic risk management strategy contains three steps: identifying hazards, assessing the risk they pose, and eliminating or controlling this risk.
The following is a brief overview of these tasks. If you would like to find out more, consider signing up for WHS training with AlertForce.
The first and most important step of your risk management strategy is identifying all of the hazards in your workplace. These can include everything from the equipment you’re using to the location in which you’re performing them.
Safe Work Australia’s “Code of Practice – Construction Work” contains some useful examples of hazards you may want to consider.
It recommends keeping an eye out for ladders and how they’re being used; falling objects, such as tools and other equipment; any chemicals or potentially dangerous materials, such as asbestos; holes and uneven surfaces; and myriad aspects of your environment.
This final category includes factors such as the temperature of the workplace (if you’re working in extremely cold or hot conditions) as well as its layout, if you’re working in a confined space or one with limited accessibility.
There are a number of ways you can go about identifying risks. For example, you could make a “risk checklist” based on previous accidents or project evaluations and see if your current workplace contains any of the same hazards.
You could also try brainstorming or having discussions with coworkers about the particular tasks or areas of the workplace they believe pose a risk to health and safety.
Once you’ve located all of the hazards in your workplace, it’s time to assess the risk they pose.
According to Safe Work Australia, your risk assessment will need to take two important factors into consideration: the likelihood of someone being injured by one of the hazards you’ve identified and how severe the injury could be.
You will then need to rank the hazards based on this information. This can be quite difficult, notes Engineers Australia’s “Risk Management Strategies Guide”, as the frequency and severity of damage-causing events caused by a hazard can sometimes be conflicting.
For instance, you might decide that a particular hazard has the potential to cause a huge amount of damage, however, the chance of this damage actually occurring is pretty slim. Do you give it a high or a low ranking?
Engineers Australia suggests using a numbering system to help make this decision. Look at each individual hazard and assign it a number between one and three for both frequency and severity.
In the frequency category, a valuation of one should be given to damage-causing events that have a high probability of occurring, while three should be given to those which may only happen on rare occasions.
In the severity category, this flips on its head – one means that is poses an insignificant risk, while three represents a damage-causing event that would have catastrophic consequences if and when it occurred.
After you’ve assigned the hazard a number in each category, add them up and rank them.
Safe Work Australia reveals that this step isn’t actually obligatory in the construction industry, except in particular circumstances – for instance, if you’re working in an environment that may be contaminated by asbestos.
However, it’s a good idea to conduct a risk assessment, as it will help you figure out the best way to manage the hazards you’ve identified – the next step in your risk management strategy.
You should now have a list of all of the hazards in your workplace and the risk they pose to employers and employees.
The third and final step is to put control measures in place to prevent the damage-causing events you’ve identified from occurring altogether – or, at least, mitigate the risk they present.
It’s important to note that there’s no “one size fits all” method of dealing with health and safety risks – use the information you’ve collected in the previous two steps to develop a risk management plan for each individual hazard.
In most sectors, including the construction sector, there is a hierarchy of control measures. Those at the top of the list are deemed the most effective at managing risks and should be implemented first. If this isn’t possible for some reason, a control measure located further down the list may be used.
Of course, completely eliminating the hazard is ideal and should always be attempted first. This isn’t always possible, however, so once you’ve gotten rid of all the hazards you can, move on to minimising the risk posed by others.
There are a wide range of ways to mitigate risks in the workplace, and sometimes you will be able to implement multiple control measures for one particular hazard.
Safe Work Australia names substitution, isolation, engineering controls and personal protection equipment (PPE) as the primary methods of protecting workers from hazards.
So, what do these terms all mean? The first, substitution, entails replacing the hazard you’ve identified with a lesser hazard – for example, replacing a solvent-based paint with a water-based paint, according to the “Code of Practice – Construction Work”.
Isolation involves placing the hazard in a location where it’s less likely to harm workers or people visiting the workplace, while engineering controls are “physical control measures” that individuals can take to help keep themselves and their co-workers safe.
PPE is actually classified as the lowest control measure on the hierarchy of control measures. It should be used only if every previous option from managing a particular risk has been ruled out as impracticable, or – better yet – in addition to one of the aforementioned control measures.
It’s important to remember a risk management strategy isn’t a “set-and-forget” kind of document. Once you’ve developed one, you need to ensure it’s reviewed on a regular basis, so that it’s always up to date and suitable for your current workplace.
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