Workplace risk assessment is fundamental step of any workplace Safety Management System (SMS). A risk assessment is a process used to identify potential hazards and analyze what could happen if a disaster or hazard occurs.
In order to understand ‘risk’ and ultimately ‘risk assessment’ we must perhaps firstly comprehend what constitutes risk and what risk is. Why we, as humans take risks almost every day of our waking lives. We take risks at home, in the office, and certainly on our way to work in the mornings as we undergo the ‘commute’ and face the challenges inherent within.
Haimes (2009), discusses risk as an amalgamation of risk dimensions, but with a more ‘human’ understanding of a problem or ‘risk interpretation’. For example, the crusty ‘old timer’, has a subjective understanding of a system that only ‘he’ understands. To use an example of a ships’ engine, the ‘old boy’ can ‘hear’ the problem. They can almost ‘feel’ the problem, sensing the risk in its continued use as opposed to the new trainee. The new trainee approaches the problem from a ‘text book’ stance. Both individuals are aware of ‘risk’ but each approach the issue from completely different angles.
Power (2004), labels risk as ‘uncertainty management’. He goes on to discuss how we try to create ‘constructs’ in which we can work and live. For example, seatbelts, signage, ISO standards etc. Power (2004, p.9) states that “we cannot know the risks we face now or in the future but we must act as if we do”. This is perhaps the whole ‘crux’ of risk management and risk assessment. We ‘plan’ for an outcome, we anticipate it to a certain extent but we can never fully know what its full effect will be.
As previously mentioned, we wear seat-belts, and bikers wear helmets. Unfortunately, that that does not remove the risk of excessive speed or other motorists. We can experience a car crash, we can survive. We exit our vehicles in a state of shock but then we wander onto the motorway and are stuck by a passing vehicle whose driver’s attention has been taken up with their voyeuristic intent to see the carnage of our current situation. That momentary ‘lapse’ in their concentration dooms us. Although we have ‘planned’ for a certain risk, (a car crash), we have not planned for our own immobility or shock, nor the ignorance of outside observers.
So, what can we do? How do we plan for risk and conduct adequate risk assessment. Can we remove or reduce the factors which precipitate disaster, and stop ourselves and others from for getting hurt? Hollnagel, (2008, p. 172) discuses resilience and how it requires the capacity for anticipation of risk and a management plan to be applied as risks arises. To this end, perhaps the ‘Robson Risk Management Model’ may be adequate and appropriate in this regard.
This model can be used in both a ‘personal’ concept and applied in an organisational context.
The individual or organisation perceives that a risk may be inherent in a certain activity or action.
The risk(s) of the activity is ‘identified’ and ‘labelled’ (in the organisational context) with a ‘risk assessment’ form.
The risk is ‘assessed’ on the basis of its ‘potentiality’ and ‘gravity’. If we are competent and thoughtful driver, the likelihood that we will experience a car crash might be low, but still exist. The severity however, if we crash, might be catastrophic.
Stemming from the risk assessment above, numerous risk strategies are developed with a view to removing the risk even further. This can take the form of ‘avoidance’, transfer, retention or reduction. This is referred to as the ‘HOC’ or hierarchy of controls, and is applied as follows:
Eliminate hazard at source
Elimination of a hazardous material or method. This is a permanent solution which eliminates the offending item completely, however this may not always be a viable scenario. Some hazardous items must be used or worked with in their current state, such as ‘live’ munitions on a range.
Substitute hazard at source.
If it is possible to substitute an item. An example of which is when a military force might use ‘blank rounds’ for exercises and instruction of new entrants. This substitution completely removes the risk of ‘friendly fire’ occurring.
Isolate or enclose the hazard.
An example of this is range practices being conducted ‘only’ on certified and controlled ranges. An adequate security and signalling is there in place to prevent entry to non-firers and to inform others that a shoot is taking place. This allows for the hazard to be successfully isolated and controlled without the possibility of injury.
Examples of this are the aforementioned security at ranges, flag system of notification and cordon enclosing the range.
Adequate supply of qualified and experienced range managers ‘in situ’ to manage the firing, observe and enforce safety measures/controls and relieve one another for breaks throughout the day. This allows for fresh, focused and diligent staff to manage the activity.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
The last measure is the use of the correct PPE. On range practices, shooters, range security, ‘butt party’ members (those controlling the targets) and range staff must all wear adequate PPE. PPE is in the form of a Kevlar helmet, double hearing protection and GSBA (general service body armour). This control enables an extra layer of protection in the unlikely event of a miss fire.
Following all of the above measures, the risk is then re-evaluated in order to ascertain if it still poses the same levels of risk or if the necessary controls are adequate and appropriate to remove or reduce the threat as far as possible. However, it must always be borne in mind that the full elimination of risk is perhaps impossible as it encapsulates far too many variables (both known and unknown), such as human factors, equipment, environment and indeed the risk area itself, thus in order to live with risk we should perhaps understand that a measure of risk is ever present and ‘natural’ and may even be ‘necessary’ for our continued advancement as a species.
Proactive Health and Safety training is critical to ensure a safe workplace. An effective training program can reduce the number of worker injuries and deaths. It can also reduce instances of property damage, legal liability, illnesses, and missed time from work.
Health and Safety training helps establish a culture in which employees themselves help promote proper safety procedures while on the job. It is important that new employees be properly trained and embrace the importance of workplace safety. The role of training in developing and maintaining effective hazard control activities is a proven and successful method of intervention.
This is why we have established Myelearsafety school. We pride ourselves in how we guide, support and mentor our students. They receive support throughout their learning experience and into their working lives. Our staff have extensive training experience and also have many years industry experience. We understand the challenges that exist within Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. Our priority is to ensure that all learners are fully prepared to differentiate themselves in the workplace after completing our Health and Safety courses.
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