Risk assessments to health & safety managers are what garlic and onion are to chefs. Just as these cooking staples are the foundation of many dishes, risk assessments are an essential ingredient in any workplace health & safety programme.
Their primary purpose is to identify the measures that are required to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated regulations, protecting workers by reducing the level of incidents/accidents.
But in the same way that a menu of beef wellington and béarnaise sauce might faze all but the most experienced chefs, risk assessments can be a daunting task.
In this blog, Nick Wakley, Quality Health and Safety Manager at Air Control Industries, assimilates the risk assessment process into eight, easy-to-digest steps, using the widely accepted ‘hierarchy of risk control’ as a framework.
1. Identify the risks
There are various ways of doing this. Ideally, a walk around the factory looking out for potential hazards should be completed at least once a week. In addition, activities such as near-miss reporting will highlight risks.
2. Remove the risks
The elimination of risks is the first step in the hierarchy of risk. If the hazard can be removed completely, this is the preferred course of action. If this is not possible, the hazard must be reduced and controlled. Here’s a simple example: a worker leaves a large crate across the walkway in front of a fire exit. This would be a major hazard if a fire occurred. Removing the crate eliminates the hazard.
3. Substitute the risks
The next best thing to removing the risk altogether is to substitute it with an alternative process or substance that reduces or eliminates the hazard. Using an example from our factory, we were using a wet paint process involving solvents to paint our systems. After identifying this as a risk, we switched to a solvent-free dry powder coating process.
4. Isolate the risks
If it is not possible to remove or substitute the risk, it needs to be contained. This can often mean putting a physical barrier between workers and the hazard. Examples of this might include installing soundproofing around a noisy process or enclosing a machine with safety guards to protect workers from shavings, flying shards or metal sparks.
5. Implement administrative controls
If risk remains, you need to make sure anyone who comes into contact with that hazard is aware of it. This may involve training operators in safe working practices or displaying warning signs or instructions in specific locations. The key point with any measures is that they instil knowledge.
6. Specify PPE
PPE is always viewed as a last resort when personal safety equipment is the only way of ensuring people are kept safe. It may be that even though one or more of the above measures have been taken, PPE is still required. Taking the paint example above, workers who come into contact with the replacement paint must wear portable respirators and gloves because although there are no solvents, the paint is a fine powder that could be an irritant if inhaled.
7. Record it in writing
All the risks identified, and actions taken need to be recorded in a written format – legally, this is a requirement for all businesses with more than five employees. The risk assessment could be in the form of a spreadsheet, a series of written notes or a traffic light system, for example.
8. Carry out regular reviews
It is important to regularly review your assessments, especially after any changes to processes, equipment, products and personnel.
If you can prove that you are regularly monitoring, risk assessing and training your employees, this will be viewed as an important mitigating factor in the event of a health & safety incident. Hopefully, though, the very act of having a rolling risk assessment strategy will mean it won’t ever arise. Regular risk assessments have been shown time and time again to foster a positive health & safety culture and to reduce the occurrence of accidents. Risk assessments are a win-win recipe for both employers and employees.
About the author:
Nick Wakley is Quality, Environmental and Health & Safety Manager at Air Control Industries. He joined the business 20 years ago, bringing with him 13 years of prior health & safety experience from Chief Inspector and Quality Manager roles. He holds a Managing Safely certificate from the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH).