24 February 2023
Workplace hazards are anything even remotely that has the potential to cause harm to a person.
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 an employer is required to carry out risk assessments, prepare a safety statement and implement what it contains. Health and Safety Authority inspectors visiting workplaces will want to know how safety and health is being managed. If they investigate an accident, they will scrutinise the risk assessments, safety statement, and the procedures as well as the work practices.
The Purpose of the Risk Assessment
The Risk Assessment should identify all workplace hazards, quantify the risks and introduce control measures to reduce the risk of injury or illness to the workforce. Some additional legislation also requires employers to conduct specific risk assessment for specific common hazards such as manual handling, hazardous substances, display screen equipment and fire safety.
What is Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is simply put a careful examination of workplace hazards and what could cause harm to people. This is so you can consider whether you have taken enough precautions or should you do more to prevent harm. Risk Assessment will help identify what could go wrong, how likely it is to happen and how serious the result could be. The employer then needs to put control measures in place to prevent the problem occurring.
What are Hazard and Risk
Hazard and Risk have two quite distinct meanings.
- Hazard – means something that has the potential to cause harm or damage.
- Risk – means the likelihood of the harm or damage being realised. The risk is a combination of chance (or likelihood) and severity, and how likely is that something is going to happen.
For example, a bottle of bleach at work falls under category of workplace hazards. If the bottle contains hazardous liquid, bur locked in the cupboard it does little harm. The risk increases when the bottle is used. When people are working safely there is less chance that an accident will occur.
Chance is a measure of how likely it is that an accident could happen.
Severity is a measure of how serious an injury or health effect could be, as a consequence of unsafe working or of an accident. The severity can be influenced by the following:
• the environment,
• the number of people at risk, and
• the steps already taken to control the hazard.
Five Steps of a Risk Assessment
Generally speaking, identifying and managing risks can be done in five steps:
1. Identify the Workplace Hazards
Slips and Trips – consider floor surfaces, housekeeping and different floor levels.
Working at Height – e.g. decorations using ladders and construction workers on scaffolding.
Fire Hazards – e.g. flammable substances and sources of ignition.
Moving Vehicles – e.g. forklift trucks and reversing lorries.
Dust – such as wood dust in a sawmill or flour in a bakery.
Hot Liquids – e.g. pans of hot water or oil in a kitchen.
2. Decide on who may be harmed and how
It is not just person conducting the task that may be affected but anyone nearby. For example, builders working on scaffolding above a public walkway may inure pedestrians if equipment or materials are dropped. Some employees will need a separate Risk Assessment, e.g. those who are more vulnerable, such as pregnant workers and young, inexperienced staff.
3. Evaluate the risk and decide on precautions
Consider the consequences of injury or harm. Could someone be seriously inured or even killed? Could lots of people be affected. How likely is it to occur? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then these hazards should be addressed as a priority and further controls put in place to reduce the risk to an acceptable level, using the hierarchy of control (see below).
4. Record your significant findings and implement them
It is a legal requirement that businesses formally record their significant findings. It is important not only to implement the controls you identified, making sure staff are trained in the new procedures, but to check to make sure they are followed correctly. Some health and Safety training can be delivered on-line. For solutions, please check our Online Health and Safety Training portal myelearnsafety.com
5. Review and update Risk Assessments as necessary
Reviews should take place when:
- Procedures are revised.
- Workplace layout is reorganised.
- New machinery is installed.
- An accident or near miss occurs.
- The law changes.
Reviews should also take place on a regular basis, possibly annually, just to make sure nothing has been missed and to identify new techniques or scientific developments that could be introduced to improve safety.
Hierarchy of Control
When considering control measures there is a scale of preference. the higher up the chart, the better or more preferable the method. Some measures will work for some tasks or activities and some for others, but not all will be suitable.
The following is a hierarchy of controls:
If something is hazardous, the most effective option is to remove the hazard altogether if possible.
If hazard cannot be eliminated, can it be substituted for something safer?
3. Implement Engineering Controls.
- Equipment – using work equipment as a preventive measure, e.g. to prevent falls from height.
- Guards – placing or replacing guarding controls.
- Insulation – an excellent method of noise control.
- Ventilation – removing hazardous dust and fumes from the workplace using additional machinery if necessary.
- Maintenance – making sure all equipment is well serviced and maintained.
4. Administrative Controls.
Procedures needed to work safely, e.g. limiting the amount of time the worker is exposed to a hazard, increasing safety signage, conducting risk assessments.
5. personal protective Equipment (PPE)
Equipment or clothing provided to protect an employee against risks to their health and safety. Must only be used once all other measures have been tried and found unsuitable.
Some hazards are obvious, such as unguarded moving parts of machinery, dangerous fumes, electricity, working at heights, moving vehicles or moving heavy loads. Less obvious, but at the root of many accidents, are hazards presented by untidy workplaces and poor maintenance. In the case of other hazards, such as excessive noise or exposure to chemicals, it may take months or even years before ill health materialises.
When deciding on the controls, you should consider the general principles of prevention. These are a hierarchy of controls that set out how to manage hazards. The focus should be to get rid of the hazard, so that people are protected. If this is not possible then you should work through the principles until you have made it as safe as reasonably practicable. Your reliance on personal protective equipment (PPE) should be one of the last steps in the process (not the first).
Always consider give training and instruction. Once you have assessed the risks and decided on your controls in line with the principles above, you will need to tell your employees about them and to make sure that they are competent to comply with them.
A Guide to Risk Assessments and Safety Statements
A guide to Risk Assessment and Safety Statements is a very useful publication by the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland (HSA), national body in Ireland responsible for the enforcement of workplace health and safety law, the implementation of a number of chemicals regulations, and accreditation. The information contained in the Guide can help an employer or self-employed person to manage safety and health in their workplace(s) by preparing risk assessments and a safety statement.
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