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How a Risk Assessment Can Save Your Employees’ Lives

by Matt on July 13, 2017

Comments (1)

You calculate risk all the time; from looking before you cross the street and checking the weather before going outside to buying life insurance and visiting the doctor.

people crossing the street

You do these things so frequently that they become second nature.

But how do you calculate risk in your workplace?

Do you know the biggest threats to your employees’ safety?

One effective way to improve your workplace and keep your employees safe is to perform a risk assessment.


What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment involves:

  • Identifying hazards and risk factors that have the potential to cause harm (hazard identification).
  • Analyzing and evaluating the risk associated with the hazard (risk analysis and risk evaluation).
  • Determining the appropriate ways to eliminate the hazard or control the risk if the hazard cannot be eliminated (risk control).

workplace risk assessment


Importance of a Risk Assessment:

A risk assessment is a thorough look at your workplace to identify the situations, processes and applications that can hurt your employees. After identifying the hazards, it’s important to analyze and evaluate how likely and how severe the risk is.

There are three basic questions that you should be asking when performing a risk assessment:

  1. How Bad?
  2. How Often?
  3. How Likely?


How Bad?

As in: If a worker is exposed to the danger, how bad would the typical injury be?

Asking this question evaluates the most probable level of severity. Nearly every injury could result in death, but frame the question around the most likely injuries that could occur from an accident in that particular area.


How Often?

As in: How often is the task being performed?

Asking this question will help you prioritize issues during your risk assessment. You should also consider:

  • The number of workers (How Many?)
  • The frequency of the exposure (How Often?)
  • The duration of the exposure (How Long?)

By being cognizant of the frequency, it will help adapt the risk assessment to your work situation.

For example you may only have 10 workers but they’re exposed to a high degree of risk. Or you have 200 workers that may be exposed to a minimal amount of risk.

Other times you may need to combine elements — many workers that are frequently exposed to risk.


How Likely?

As in: When machinery fails, how likely is it that a worker will be injured?

When asking this question, it’s important to focus on the injury, not the likelihood of the machinery failing — all mechanical systems fail eventually.

The answer to this question can range from “unlikely,” “possible” to “certain.”


When Should a Risk Assessment Be Done?

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, a risk assessment is needed when:

  • Introducing new processes or activities
  • Changes are introduced to existing processes or activities — products, machinery, tools, equipment etc.
  • Hazards are identified


Who Should Do a Risk Assessment?

There are various styles of risk assessments and no one style is correct for every situation.

A brainstorming session — based on knowledge and experience — can be effective for less severe situations. In other cases, checklists and probability matrix are more effective.

For more complex situations, a team of trained, knowledgeable personnel who are familiar with work is necessary. If you don’t have someone within your organization that is confident in their ability to identify risk, consider hiring a risk management professional (RMP) or outside consultant.

If you do have a trained risk identification team in place, a useful tool to completing your workplace safety evaluation is to use a risk assessment matrix.


Risk Assessment Matrix:

A risk assessment matrix is an easy way to determine which hazards are the most serious by ranking or prioritizing them.

Below is an example of a simple risk matrix that shows the relationship between probability and severity.

Risk Assessment Matrix

Severity ratings in the example represent injuries like:

  • High: Major fracture, amputation, serious head injury, fatal disease, significant loss of blood.
  • Medium: Sprain, localized burn, injury resulting in days off work.
  • Low: An injury that has short-term pain, irritation, or only needs first-aid treatment.

Probability ratings in this example represent:

  • High: Likely to be experienced once or twice a year by an individual.
  • Medium: May be experience once every few years.
  • Low: May occur once in a working lifetime.

A hazard that has a high severity but low probability of occurring would be outweighed by a high probability rating with a low or medium severity.

This will help you when it comes to determining which areas need the most attention.


Risk Assessment Procedure in 5 Steps:


Step 1: Determine Workplace Hazards

The first step to completing a risk assessment is to look for areas in the workplace that could cause harm, keep in mind that not all hazards will be physical.

Notable classifications of hazards:

  • Physical: This includes things like lifting, awkward postures, machinery, architectural, slips and trips.
  • Mental/Psychological: Mental hazards include excessive workloads, long hours, high stress, or workplace bullying.
  • Chemical: Chemical hazards include asbestos, cleaning fluids and aerosols.
  • Biological: Biological hazards include infectious diseases like hepatitis or tuberculosis.

If you’re not sure where to start, OSHA’s annual list of Top 10 Workplace Citations is a good reference.

Many organizations tend to overlook these violations and taking special care to review these areas is an easy way to mitigate risk.


Step 2: Establish Who Can Be Hurt

Once you’ve identified the hazards in your workplace, it’s time to identify who is at risk. Full- and part-time employees might jump to mind first, but keep contractors, visitors, clients and casual workers in mind as well.

Review work routines in the different areas of your workplace, paying particular attention to situations or applications that employees participate in in those locations.

For example:

  • In landscaping risk exists in almost every area, from physical hazards like heavy lifting and machine operation to chemical or biological hazards from pesticides or discarded needles.
  • Workers in any manufacturing facility face hazards from slips and trips, long hours, repetitive motion strains and machinery.


Step 3: Assess the Risk and Take Action

Now that you’ve determined the workplace hazards and established who is most at risk around these hazards, it’s time to assess the risks and see how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm someone.

Your risk assessment matrix will be useful here to prioritize the hazards.


Step 4: Record Your Findings

Create a risk assessment form that outlines the hazard, the risk associated with it, the likelihood of an injury and the preventative control measures.

Keep in mind that personal protection equipment (PPE) won’t always be your first course of action. For instance, there are cases when we recommend not wearing gloves.


Step 5: Review the Risk Assessment

Reviewing your risk assessment findings is important to making sure that best practices are still being followed.

This includes:

  • Making sure that safe working practices are continuing to be applied.
  • Accounting for any new working practices, precautions or required PPE.


Legal Obligations of Risk Assessments:

There is a legal obligation for any employer or self-employed person in Europe to perform risk assessments.

In North America a formal risk assessment is not required by law. But you are legally required to take the necessary steps to keep workers safe and a risk assessment is a proactive and preventative measure.


Proactive Prevention:

There are many ways that you can be proactive in reducing risks, and a risk assessment is a simple and effective way to prevent injuries, reduce harm and even save lived.

Want more ways to be proactive? Click below to download our Top 10 Compliance Tips.

compliance tip sheet

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Reader Comments'

Right risk assessment is imperative.All other preventative measures such as selection of PPE etc can be effective only if the risk assessment is accurate and error-free.

Reply TaraSafe - August 16, 2017

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