Workplaces are unavoidably hazardous places, no matter how anodyne they may seem from outside. Administrative offices may have chemical cleaning products lurking behind kitchenette cupboards, or electrical hazards within arm’s reach of a desk. For this reason, risk assessments are a vital part of every business’ health and safety programmes. How should one be conducted, though?
Anatomy of a Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is a simple procedure, often laid out as a form. The form lists every potential risk in a business venue, workplace, warehouse or process, and outlines the ways in which those risks might be minimised.
The first column of the form would be the specific situation or hazard that generates risk. A dripping pipe might be creating standing water in a corridor, or there might be a slight step between two spaces. Alternatively, a machine may have a movement cycle that could endanger unaware users. The next column would be the risk that said situation presents. Standing water could cause someone to slip; a moving part in a machine could crush or trap part of a worker’s body.
The next column, then, would be a suggested solution to minimise the risk posed. This would be suggested according to the ‘hierarchy of controls’, which ranks methods of risk minimisation in order of preference. Elimination of the hazard altogether is preferred to ‘substitution’, or replacement of risky item with a less risky alternative. This, in turn, is preferable to solutions that isolate people from the hazard. Often, isolation is the most equitable solution, though – as with the building of fences to protect from poor weather conditions.
Finally, a specific individual should be named to handle the supervision of a given proposed change. This ensures that the change is done, and that recommendations aren’t lost to bureaucracy or inaction.
But how are risks identified? This is a deceptively simple thing, being that risk assessments are largely carried out via physical walks through a venue or work environment. The walk might be conducted by heads of departments and a designated health and safety officer, so as to glean insights from all hands regarding specific hazards.
The Importance of Risk Assessments
Risk assessments are the bedrock of robust health and safety policy. Without undertaking proper and in-depth risk assessments for your business, covering both the premises themselves and the processes that take place within them, it is much easier for accidents to occur without oversight.
As touched on above, one of the most important aspects of the risk assessment is the accountability it produces. It is not enough to notice the potential problems with a process or environment; it must also be someone’s responsibility to ensure that process or environment is addressed and made safer. Without risk assessments, accidents and injuries occur without anyone to take full responsibility – creating a culture in which poor health and safety is the sole outcome, and employee death a higher risk.