As a business leader, you have an obligation to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. While that looks different for every organisation, what it will no doubt include is carrying out workplace health and safety (WHS) risk assessments. Creating a workplace that is safe and healthy is only possible when there is an organised approach in place to manage the risks. The way you carry out a WHS risk assessment will influence the controls you put in place, and, ultimately, the level of safety at your workplace.
What is a Risk Assessment and Why is it Important?
A risk assessment is a comprehensive review of your workplace to identify anything that may cause harm. Hazards can include tasks, applications, tools and environmental conditions. In other words, hazards are anything that has the potential to cause harm. The risk is then the likelihood of that harm occurring. Risk assessment describes the overall activity of identifying hazards, analysing risk and determining controls.
Ultimately, risk assessment is the process of analysing the significance of each identified risk and putting in place measures of control. Risk assessments should be an important management tool for effective risk management. By carrying out WHS risk assessments, you will create awareness, put controls in place and, hopefully, prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
How Often Should Risk Assessments Take Place
Risk assessments are certainly not a one-off activity and need to be undertaken regularly. Triggers for carrying out risk assessments include the introduction of new work activities and changes to equipment or tools. Every time there is new equipment, substances or procedures, there is potential for new hazards. Also, when there is high staff turnover, the way new staff work needs to be reviewed, they themselves could create a hazard if they don’t use safe working practices. As well as new staff, changes to the personal circumstances of existing staff can create new hazards. If someone is pregnant or has a new medical condition, for example, the work-based risks could change.
How to Assess the Risks in Your Workplace
You need to know how to assess the risks in your workplace if you are going to be able to eliminate or minimise them. To do this, and to comply with your WHS responsibilities, you need to carry out risk assessments. There are five vital steps you need to follow in order to carry out a WHS risk assessment effectively:
- Identify hazards – this is the process of identifying anything that may cause harm. Some hazards in your workplace will be obvious either because they are well known in the industry or common to all places of work. Others, however, will take more effort to be identified. Safe Work Australia recommends consulting with workers and systematically analysing each and every task they perform as well as all the tools they use. You can also identify hazards by encouraging workers to report anything they come across. To empower your employees, make sure you have an effective incident report form and that you thoroughly investigate all incidents.
- Assess risks – once you know what the hazards are within your workplace, you can assess the likelihood and severity of the related risk. This part of the risk assessment process will give you insight into how hazards could cause an injury and how different hazards interact with each other. You need to consider who may be harmed, be it employers, contract staff, visitors or members of the public and from every location in which you work.
- Control risks – to manage the risks, you need to implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances. The most effective control is to eliminate hazards. However, this is not always possible. Other controls include substituting the hazard with a safer alternative, isolating the hazard, or using engineering or administrative controls to reduce the risk.
- Record findings – every time you carry out a risk assessment, you should record the findings. The report will include the hazard, the related risks and the actions taken to eliminate or minimise the risks. The record of your risk assessment is a working document that should be freely available to you and your staff.
- Review risk assessment – there are a lot of changes within our places of work, and it is vital that you ensure your controls continue to work. When reviewing your risk assessments, you’ll need to consider if there are any new working practices, machinery or staff and ensure that safe working practices are still being used.
Know Your WHS Responsibilities
As an employer, you have a duty to assess the health and safety risks that your workers face. It is paramount that you systematically check for physical mental, chemical and biological hazards by completing thorough risk assessments. By knowing your WHS responsibilities, understanding what a risk assessment is and why it is important, and knowing how to assess risks in your workplace, you will create a safer working environment for everyone.
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