Health and Safety Risk Assessment Steps
Employers have an obligation to ensure and maintain a healthy and safe work environment for employees and visitors to the premises. This is to ensure that employees are safeguarded and to ensure that employers are compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993.
There may be a misconception that health and safety risk assessments are complex, time-consuming, or tedious, however, there are five simple health and safety risk assessment steps that can be followed to ensure that an effective risk assessment is done.
Step 1 – Hazard Identification
The first step involves the identification of potential hazards in the workplace, this can be done by doing any of the following:
- Walking around the work environment and looking at what could cause harm.
- Speak to employees and obtain their feedback as they may have noticed things that are not obvious to the employer.
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
- Consider long-term hazards to health such as high levels of noise, exposure to harmful substances, and other hazards.
Hazards can be classified and divided into eight distinct groups, namely:
Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed, and how
For each hazard which is identified, the employer must clearly indicate who may be harmed. This will help to identify the best way in which the risk can be managed. It is, however, not necessary to list each employee by name. Employees can be grouped into the following:
- Any other people who may be affected by activities.
Special consideration must be given to:
- New workers and young people
- Lone workers
- People with disabilities or chronic conditions
- Migrant workers
- Temporary workers
- New and expectant mothers, and others who may be vulnerable.
Step 3 – Risk evaluation and precautions to be implemented
Once the hazards have been identified, the employer must decide what to do about them. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that employers do what is reasonably practicable to protect employees from harm.
It is crucial to look at the risk control measures which are already in place and how they are organised. This can then be compared with best practice and employers can determine what more can be done to ensure compliance.
In addition, the following can be considered:
- Can the hazard be eliminated?
- If not, how can the risks be controlled to minimise or reduce harm?
When controlling risks, the following principles can be applied and, if possible, in the following order.
- Try something which is less risking, for instance, using a less dangerous or hazardous substance for cleaning.
- Prevent access to the hazard, for instance, guards on moving parts.
- Organise the work to reduce exposure, such as placing barriers between pedestrians and traffic.
- Provision of personal protective equipment such as overalls, glasses, gloves, safety shoes, and so on.
- Provide welfare facilities such as first aid stations and washing facilities in the event of contamination.
Step 4 – Recording of findings and their implementation
The results arising from the risk assessment can be put into practice and it will make a difference when employers safeguard employees. In keeping record of risk assessments, the employer has proof of their efforts and compliance.
The findings and precautions must be shared with employees so that awareness can be created along with a strong safety culture. In carrying out an effective risk assessment, employers can prove that:
- A thorough check was done.
- Those who may be affected were identified.
- The obvious and significant hazards were dealt with and the number of potentially affected people identified.
- The precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low.
- Staff or employee representatives were involved in the process.
Step 5 – Review and updates, if necessary
Conditions in the work environment are not likely to remain the same from one day to the next, and for this reason, organisations must determine how frequently they carry out risk assessments and when they review risk assessments.
Once conditions change, such as the following, the risk assessment must be reviewed:
- The introduction of new work activities
- Changes to equipment or tools.
- Once new equipment, substances, or procedures are introduced.
- When there is high staff turnover, the way in which new staff operate must be reviewed to ensure that they do not create new hazards.
- Personal circumstances that change such as an employee becoming pregnant or being diagnosed with a new medical condition that they did not previously have.
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