Identify, analyze, and mitigate potential hazards and the risks associated with them by conducting risk assessments.
Published 5 May 2023
A risk assessment is a systematic process performed by a competent person which involves identifying, analyzing, and controlling hazards and risks present in a situation or a place. This decision-making tool aims to determine which measures should be put in place in order to eliminate or control those risks, as well as specify which of them should be prioritized according to the level of likeliness and impact they have on the business.
Risk assessment is one of the major components of a risk analysis. Risk analysis is a process with multiple steps that intends to identify and analyze all of the potential risks and issues that are detrimental to the business. This is an ongoing process that gets updated when necessary. These concepts are interconnected and can be used individually.
Risk communication is the process of exchanging information and opinion on risk with concerned parties. Risk management is the proactive control and evaluation of threats and risks to prevent accidents, uncertainties, and errors. Together with risk assessment, these are all vital elements that help make informed decisions such as mitigating risks.
Identifying hazards by using the risk assessment process is a key element when ensuring the health and safety of your employees and customers. OSHA requires businesses to conduct risk assessments. According to regulations set by OSHA, assessing hazards or potential risks will determine the personal protective gears and equipment a worker may need for their job. There are guidelines available for different industries since present types of possible risks may vary, an example of this is agribusinesses. Unique risks for this industry include manure storage, tractor operation, animal handling, behavior, and health.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the US specializes in assessing hazards related to humans and its environmental receptors such as animals, chemicals, and other ecological factors. While in the UK, conducting risk assessments are a legal requirement as stated in the Health and Safety at Work Act. The specific regulation under this law can be retrieved from the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Section.
The gravity of hazard identifications is clear with all these organizations and governments requiring risk assessments at work. With this, it is apparent that risk assessment is important in preventing and reducing risks to save lives and ensure that the workplace stays a safe space.
Risk Analysis Framework
Beyond complying with legislative requirements, the purpose of risk assessments are to eliminate operational risks and improve the overall safety of the workplace. It is employers responsibility to perform risk assessments when:
Risk assessments are also performed by auditors when planning an audit procedure for a company.
While the exact details of risk assessments may vary greatly across different industries, HSE distinguishes three general risk assessment types:
This refers to risk assessments performed for large scale complex hazard sites such as the nuclear, and oil and gas industry. This type of assessment requires the use of an advanced risk assessment technique called a Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA).
This refers to assessments that are required under specific legislation or regulations, such as the handling of hazardous substances (according to COSHH regulations, 1998) and manual handling (according to Manual Handling Operations Regulations, 1992).
This type of assessment manages general workplace risks and is required under the management of legal health and safety administrations such as OSHA and HSE.
Risk assessments are essential to identify hazards and risks that may potentially cause harm to workers. There are a variety of risk assessments used across different industries tailoring specific needs and control measures. Here are common risk assessment examples:
Here are reports of risk assessment examples performed using pre-existing risk assessment templates:
Risk assessments can be seen as a regulatory paperwork burden, but understanding the reason and purpose of a risk assessment will help your team identify, prioritize and control hazards in your workplace.
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Risk assessments should be carried out by competent persons who are experienced in assessing hazard injury severity, likelihood, and control measures. To start off, good planning will be essential in order to implement a risk assessment effectively. Consider the following 4 elements as stated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
By determining all of these, you can create a solid foundation for an effective risk assessment. Once you’ve planned out your risk assessment, you can proceed with performing the risk assessment. A risk assessment is performed in 5 steps or stages.
Risk assessment is a step-by-step process that allows users to follow an ideal chronology in order to make the most out of the tool and effectively identify risks and their possible controls. Below are the 5 steps on how to efficiently perform risk assessments:
Survey the workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Identify common workplace hazards. Check the manufacturer’s or suppliers’ instructions or data sheets for any obvious hazards. Review previous accident and near-miss reports. Efficiently identify hazards by using a hazard identification checklist. This ensures everything is discovered during risk assessment and hazard identification which prevents risks from escalating.
Hazards and risks are sometimes used interchangeably; however, they actually refer to two different elements of a potential incident. A hazard is something that has the potential of causing harm to people, property, or the environment, while risk is the likelihood of a hazard to actually cause harm or damage under defined circumstances.
To evaluate a hazard’s risk, you have to consider how, where, how much, and how long individuals are typically exposed to a potential hazard. Assign a risk rating to your hazards with the help of a risk matrix. Using a risk matrix can help measure the level of risk per hazard by considering factors such as the likelihood of occurrence, and severity of potential injuries. Meanwhile, performing an environmental analysis lets you gauge potential risks and their impacts on your business environment.
Make sure to also consider using specific tools for different functions, take for example—excavation safety software to reduce the risk of excavation-related accidents, hazard reporting software to quickly communicate any potential hazards found, or an all-encompassing tool that has the general capabilities of these various software.
After assigning a risk rating to an identified hazard, it’s time to come up with effective controls to protect workers, properties, civilians, and/or the environment. Follow the hierarchy of controls in prioritizing implementation of controls.
It is important to keep a formal record of risk assessments. This can help your organization keep track of hazards, risk, and control measures. Documentation may include a detailed description of the process in assessing the risk, an outline of evaluations, and detailed explanations on how conclusions were made.
Use a risk assessment template to document your findings. Get started with SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor)’s free risk assessment templates that you can use on your mobile device while on-site. Share your report and findings with key parties who can implement changes.
Follow up with your assessments and see if your recommended controls have been put in place. If the conditions in which your risk assessment was based on change significantly, use your best judgment to determine if a new risk assessment is necessary.
There are options on the tools and techniques that can be seamlessly incorporated into a business’ process. The four common risk assessment tools are: risk matrix, decision tree, failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), and bowtie model. Other risk assessment techniques include what-if analysis, failure tree analysis, and hazard operability analysis.
A risk matrix is often used during a risk assessment to measure the level of risk by considering the consequence/ severity and likelihood of injury to a worker after being exposed to a hazard. The two measures can then help determine the overall risk rating of the hazard. Two key questions to ask when using a risk matrix should be:
The most common types are the 3×3 risk matrix, 4×4 risk matrix, and 5×5 risk matrix.
In assessing the consequences of a hazard, the first question should be asked “If a worker is exposed to this hazard, how bad would the most probable severe injury be?”. For this consideration we are presuming that a hazard and injury is inevitable and we are only concerned with its severity.
It is common to group the injury severity and consequence into the following four categories:
To illustrate how this can be used in the workplace we will use the example of a metal shearing task. A hazard involved could include a piece of metal flying out of the equipment while in use. In this example the probable most severe injury would be “Major or Serious Injury” with the possibility of bruising, breakage, finger amputation.
In assessing the likelihood, the question should be asked “If the hazard occurs, how likely is it that the worker will be injured?”. This should not be confused with how likely the hazard is to occur. It is common to group the likelihood of a hazard causing worker injury into the following four categories:
In our metal shearing example the question should not be “How likely is the machine expected to fail?” but instead “When the machine fails and causes metal to fly out, how likely is the worker expected to be injured?”. If in our example we observe a safe distance between the machine and worker and proper PPE being worn, we could rate it as “Unlikely” given our observations
We recommend OSHA’s great learning resources in understanding how to assess consequence and likelihood in your risk assessments.
“Safety has to be everyone’s responsibility… everyone needs to know that they are empowered to speak up if there’s an issue.” – Captain Scott Kelly, at the SafetyCulture Virtual Summit.
Thinking about safety shouldn’t stop at the completion of a risk assessment. Embody a safety culture, so workers are empowered take extra care as they do their best work. A hazard identification and risk assessment training can help your organization achieve that.
A good and effective risk assessment training should orient new and existing workers on various hazards and risks that they may encounter. It should also be able to easily walk them through safety protocols. When everyone is on the same page, managing risks becomes easy.
Conducting or delivering effective Training shouldn’t be a pain. With today’s technology, courses are now made more engaging through bite sized lessons. Below are a few courses we picked out that can get your team training started:
Many factors and processes can come into play when conducting a risk assessment. The process usually takes a lot of time as it involves going through multiple hands for review and completion. Which in turn, opens the whole risk assessment procedure to issues like losing track of paperwork and records.
Using a risk assessment software like SafetyCulture makes it easy for you to have everything in one place. Organizations are able to track hazards, risks, control measures, and corrective actions within just a few taps.
See how SafetyCulture can help your risk assessment every step of the way:
SafetyCulture gives you the flexibility to power any inspection you require – onsite, underground, and across the globe. Inspect construction sites, restaurant inspections for food safety, conduct temperature checks, pre-flight checks, toolbox talks, and more. It is the mobile forms inspection solution for all industries.
Risk assessments are often confused with a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). The key difference between a risk assessment and a JSA is scope. Risk assessments assess safety hazards across the entire workplace and are oftentimes accompanied with a risk matrix to prioritize hazards and controls. Whereas a JSA focuses on job-specific risks and is typically performed for a single task, assessing each step of the job.
The three main tasks of risk assessment include identifying the hazards, assessing the risks that come along with them, and placing control measures to either eliminate them totally or at least minimize their impact on the business and its people.
The five most common categories of operational risks are people risk, process risk, systems risk, external events risk or external fraud, and legal and compliance risk. Operational risks refer to the probability of issues relating to people, processes, or systems negatively impacting the business’s daily operations.
As stated above, risk assessments are ideally performed when there’s a new process introduced or if there are changes to the existing ones, as well as when there are new equipment or tools for employees to use. Outside of these instances, however, it is recommended that businesses schedule risk assessments at least once a year so that the procedures are updated accordingly.
Risk assessments are traditionally completed through pen-and-paper checklists which are inconvenient when reports and action plans are urgently needed. Streamline the process with SafetyCulture, a mobile app solution. Get started by browsing this collection of customizable Risk Assessment templates that you can download for free.
Jai Andales is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. As a content specialist, she creates well-researched articles about health and safety topics. She is also passionate about empowering businesses to utilize technology in building a culture of safety and quality.
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