Risk of injury is an inherent part of many workplaces, and sometimes the risks are unknown or unidentified. We can’t eliminate risk entirely but we can reduce the risk and control it using standard procedures and good work practices. Or, we can just accept the risk as a normal part of doing a job. The question becomes “How much risk are you and your employees willing to accept?”

Accepting Risk

Risk is with us every day and on every task. Risk is determined by frequency (how often we’re exposed to it), probability of something bad happening, and the severity of the outcome. We make decisions about accepting risk every day. Another real question is “Do we understand the risk and are we willing to accept it?”.

Acceptance of risk begins at the organizational level and is forced down stream to the local level. Controlling risk is typically a management function and fortunately, there are some good tools available to help understand risk and keep it at an acceptable level. One tool commonly used today is the Job Safety Analysis.

At the lowest management level, risk has to be controlled by the people doing the work and their immediate supervisors. In both the planning and execution of a task, it is essential to make sure that all those who need to be involved are given an adequate opportunity to be involved and are kept informed of developments that might increase the risks and change the measures needed to deal with them.

Evaluating Work Site Hazards

Workers really are very good at spotting hazards, but not as good at mentioning them. Most incident investigations (my opinion) have found that workers in the area knew the hazard existed. Some thought the hazard was normal and some say they just thought the risk was “acceptable”. How do we, as managers, get our employees involved and help reduce risk?

The goal is to establish a common level of risk tolerance among the team members and there are several things that can affect this process. On any job, the judgment and decisions of the supervisory staff and employees are the most critical part of work area risk assessment and communication of local hazards. A good understanding of the nature of the work, the work environment and the health and safety hazards involved is required of the individuals making decisions on the best way to control the hazards.

The fact that each person’s perception of risk and level of risk tolerance is different is one of the things that complicates communication of risk on a construction site. The JSA is a tool used to improve and document the communication process and ensure mutual understanding of risks and controls by all the people involved.

Managing The Risk

A Job Safety Analysis is an important part of the risk management process in heavy industry. As part of the risk management process, the JSA is a management tool used to reduce the level of risk to the lowest possible acceptable level by allowing all members of a team to interact and develop a common understanding of the task, procedures and hazards associated with completing the task. The tool is available, using it for the greatest benefit is another matter.

The good, bad or indifferent perception of the JSA as planning tool by the person completing it has a significant effect on the quality of information on the document and the level of input by workers involved.

How much individuals are trusted and internal power relations can significantly influence the willingness of employees to communicate and control risk. Other personal factors that can influence communication include individual experience, risk assessment and individual perception of a particular risk with respect to other people on the team or in the area.

Other factors that may influence local risk management include the physical environment of the work area, work procedures (safe work practices), tools and resources available to eliminate or reduce the hazard.

A Basic Guide to Conducting a Risk Assessment

One of the best ways to carry out a risk assessment is to use the experience and expertise of a competent person or persons with experience and relevant competency in their field. A competent person does not mean just qualified. It is important that the person or persons have worthwhile experience and an understanding in what they are assessing. To sum this up, a competent person should have knowledge, experience and a relevant qualification. It is important that the person refreshes their knowledge to ensure that it up to date and relevant.

At this point, it must be made clear that it is not the written document that makes a particular task or job safe, but the control measures that are put in place and reviewed on a regular basis. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should identify the hazards, evaluate risks, determine appropriate measures necessary and ensure that it is appropriate to the nature of the work whilst being valid for a reasonable period of time.

A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm, whereas risk is the likelihood of harm occurring. The principles of a risk assessment follows a systematic process, which should be considered as a 5 step plan

Step one is identifying hazards. This would be anything that has the potential to cause harm. This could include any item, object, chemical, environmental or work process that has the potential to cause harm.

Check Out: How to Conduct a Job Hazard Analysis

Step two is to identify who may actually be harmed. In a risk assessment, everyone who comes into contact either directly or indirectly with the hazard needs to be included in the finished report. This will include employers, employees, visitors, contractors and anyone else that is affected by the hazard or hazards identified.

Step three is for the evaluation of the risk by considering all existing precautions that already in place. This would be a list of anything and everything that is done to prevent something from causing harm.

Step four is the recording of all findings. This step involves a written documentation (If five or more staff are employed) of all the hazards and the attributed risks as well as all the precautions in place.

Check Out: Job Safety Assessment Form

Step five is the reviewing and revision of the risk assessment as and when necessary. A review could take place on a periodic basis, whereas when necessary would involve an introduction of a new work process, new machinery or new environment, or even if a new hazard or risk has been discovered.

A risk assessment should be reviewed and if necessary modified on a regular basis or after any near miss or accident.

It is a requirement to follow a systematic approach to deciding which control measures need or should be implemented. The hierarchy of control which is basically a systematic process to decide which control measures should be implemented

The first step of the hierarchy of control as well as the most important thing is to try and avoid the risk altogether. If the risk can be taken away, there is no reason to continue the hierarchy of control, as there is no risk of injury.

The second step is substitution. Can the task, equipment, or substance be substituted for something less risky, therefore reducing the harm/

The third step of the hierarchy is enclosure, isolation and separation. Can the work process be enclosed so the workers are not affected by the process and not exposed to the risk?

The fourth step would be the introduction of guarding or safety devices. This would protect all relevant people by preventing them access to dangerous areas.

The fifth stage would be the introduction of a safe system of work, in which procedures must be followed and the staff are made fully aware of what these procedures actually are.

Supervision is the sixth stage of the hierarchy of control. This ensures that effective supervision is in place to monitor that procedures are in place and staff do not take unnecessary risks or short cuts

The seventh stage is training. Training should include all management, supervisors and employees that are involved with the task. The training needs to be relevant to the task in order to make it an effective control

The eighth stage would include information. This information is regarding the hazards and risks in the workplace that have been identified and safe systems that should be followed

The last stage should be the introduction of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This is only to be used as a last resort. This is because PPE only protects the wearer from the risk.

If your company needs more information, training, or a policy on PPE, check out what the EHS Center offers to members here

It is important to remember that a risk assessment is a systematic process of identifying hazards and risks in the workplace and documenting them. A risk assessment is only a stage in the removal of a hazard and the risk of someone becoming injured or ill at work. A risk assessment is not the last step in regard to health and safety at work, it is a tool to help protect employees, visitors and anyone else affected by the potential hazard as well as the risk.

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