Carrying out a Risk Assessment is an essential part of Health & Safety Policy and Practice
Risk assessments are used to decide on priorities and to set objectives for eliminating hazards and reducing risks. Wherever possible, risks are eliminated through selection and design of facilities, equipment and processes. If they cannot be eliminated, then they must be minimised.
The principal aim of risk assessment is to find out what measures are required of the organisation to comply with all relevant health & safety legislation, and therefore reduce the number of occupational injuries and ill-health.
The general duties of employers to their employees imply that a risk assessment is necessary. From a legal perspective the risk assessment shall be "suitable and sufficient" and cover both employees and non-employees affected by the employer's undertaking (e.g. contractors, members of the public, students, patients, customers, etc.).
Note the term "suitable and sufficient" because it defines the limits involved in the risk assessment process. For a risk assessment to be suitable and sufficient it must:
- Identify considerable risks and ignore unimportant ones.
- Identify and prioritise the steps needed to comply with the relevant statutory provisions.
- Be appropriate for the type of work involved, and valid for a reasonable length of time.
There are two basic types of risk assessment. The first is a quantitative risk assessment, which tries to measure the risk by relating the probability of it occurring to how severe the outcome might be and the assigning a numerical value to the risk. This type of risk assessment is used in situations where a mishap could have very serious consequences.
The second, and more common, type of risk assessment is the qualitative assessment. This is based solely on personal judgement and is normally defined as high, medium or low.
It is important to know the difference between a hazard and a risk. A hazard is the potential of a substance, activity or process to cause harm. A risk is the likelihood of a substance, activity or process to cause harm. An accident is defined as "any unplanned event that results in injury or ill health of people, or damage or loss to property, plant, materials or the environment or a loss of a business opportunity.
It is very important to distinguish between the direct and indirect costs of accidents, as well as insured and uninsured costs A recent study in the UK showed that hidden or indirect costs could be up to 36 times greater that the direct costs.
Near misses are incidents that could well have resulted in an accident. Research shows that for every 10 near misses, one minor accident will happen. A dangerous occurrence is a near miss which could have caused serious injury or loss of life. Good management will help to reduce risks and control hazards.
A health & safety management system is recommended and a risk assessment is part of the planning and implementation stage. The entire organisation, including health & safety management, needs to be covered by the risk assessment process. The following 6 steps are useful for assessing risks:
- Look for hazards.
- Decide who is in danger, and how they might be harmed.
- Evaluate the risks and levels.
- Decide whether existing precautions are enough or whether more needs to be done.
- Record the important findings.
- Monitor and Review the Assessment and revise it if necessary.
The level of risk allows you to formulate a timetable of risk reduction. There is a legal duty for all risks to be as low as is reasonably practicable. High risk activities should be corrected in days, medium risks in weeks, and low risks in months or in some cases no action will be needed. Risk assessors will generally need some training in designating risk levels.
In relation to risk control measures all organisations should consult any available legislation first, as well as any accompanying codes of practice and implement any recommendations. It is a good idea to keep a written record of risk assessment as it provides excellent evidence to a health & safety inspector that an organisation is compliant, and also in case the organization becomes embroiled in a civil action.
Some groups of people need an additional risk assessment because they are more "at risk" than other groups e.g. young people, expectant and nursing mothers and disabled workers. Trainees on Government sponsored training programmes can be treated the same as employees for the purposes of health and safety.
The Pregnant Workers Directive from the EU stipulates that if there are particular risks to expectant or nursing mothers from any type of work the risk assessment needs to include an assessment of these risks. If these risks cannot be avoided the woman's working conditions or hours should be changed to avoid these risks. The alternatives to this are to offer her other work or to suspend her from work on full pay.
For many years now organisations have been encouraged to employ workers with disabilities and to ensure that their place of work has suitable access for people with disabilities. From the perspective of health & safety it is important that special risk assessments are undertaken to cover workers with disabilities to ensure the appropriate controls are in place for their protection.
For further information including guidelines and codes of practice visit www.hsa.ie