Health and Safety Risk Management


What is a risk assessment?

When correctly used, a risk assessment forms part of effective health and safety risk management to ensure the health and safety of workers as well as others. A risk assessment, when simply defined, is a systematic process that involves the identification of hazards, evaluating associated risks within the workplace, and implementing reasonable control measures to remove or reduce them.


Why are risk assessments important?

Effective risk assessments can be used as a management tool to effectively manage risks. It is a legal requirement for employers to provide a workplace that is safe, healthy, and without any hazard or risk to the health and safety of employees and any person who may enter the premises.

A risk assessment is a method which is straightforward and structured, ensuring that risks to health, safety, and wellbeing of employees can be suitably reduced, controlled, and eliminated, where practicably possible.

Some of the main purposes associated with risk assessment are:

  • The identification of health and safety hazards.
  • Evaluation of the risks presented within the workplace.
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness as well as suitability of existing control measures.
  • Ensuring that additional controls are implemented where the remaining risk is anything other than low.
  • Prioritising further resources, if needed, to ensure the points above.

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Who is responsible for conducting a risk assessment?

The employer, or a contractor who is in the capacity as an employer, is responsible to carry out the risk assessment, however, the employer can also appoint a person, such as a safety professional (safety manager) to perform a risk assessment on their behalf, in writing.


When must risk assessments be conducted?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act dictates that a risk assessment be done annually, however, a risk assessment must be conducted before an activity or a task is carried out, once there are significant changes in the workplace, and/or following an accident, incident, or ill-health event.


What is risk governance?

There are new advancements in technologies, substances, and the way in which work activities are looking beyond traditional methods of health and safety risk management. Working with new technologies and uncertain risks may have impacts not only on OHS policies within the workplace, but also areas around it.

Even in cases where there are known safety risks, the time as well as the place of the event cannot be known, however, the likelihood and/or probability of the event as well as its nature, and its outcome can be determined.

Risk governance involves the architecture within which risk management operates within an organisation. It reflects along with seeks to sustain and therefore evolve the risk culture of an organisation.

Risk management is a fundamental part of successful business and therefore risk governance forms an imperative part of corporate governance. It involves the identification, assessment, management as well as communication of risks in a broader context.

Risk governance consists of:

  • The entirety of actors.
  • Rules
  • Conventions
  • Processes
  • Mechanisms that are concerned with how relevant risk information is collected, analysed, and communicated, and how and by whom risk management decisions are therefore taken.


Risk governance involves a paradigm shift which helps professionals become more acquainted with the broader concept which is involved with risk.

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Ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity of risks

The first step involved with conducting a risk assessment is the identification of characteristics of the risks which can potentially complicate the assessment. There are three characteristics which should be considered:

  • Ambiguity
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity



Ambiguity is the result of divergent as well as contentious views associated with the justification, severity, or the broader significance of a given threat. It relates to risk governance by ‘giving rise’ to a variety of both meaningful and legitimate interpretations of accepted risk assessment results.

There are two types of ambiguity namely normative and interpretative ambiguity. Normative ambiguity is associated with different views regarding what is acceptable from an ethical perspective with regards to quality of life, or the how benefits and risks are distributed throughout a given population.

Interpretative ambiguity, however, relates to differing interpretations relating to identical research results.


Uncertainty pertains to the lack of scientific certainty regarding hazards, the level of exposure, the effect of the hazards as well as exposures, and the resulting risks. Sources of uncertainty include, but is not limited to:

  • Natural hazards such as earthquakes or hurricanes.
  • Unpredictable hazards for instance those that stem from the behaviour of individuals.
  • Limitations to current knowledge such as the unpredictable effects of social as well as technological developments.



The complexity associated with risk is when it is difficult to identify and/or determine links which exist between multitudes of potential causes as well as observed effects. Complexity as well as continuous changes mean that cause as well as effect are not closely related in time and space, and that these are often more difficult to distinguish.


What is the precautionary principle?

When there are potentially serious risks that exist with large scientific uncertainty, the precautionary principle can be applied. Even though the precautionary principle cannot be clearly or simply defined, it is known as a process which involves the prescribed steps to which conditions as well as rules are attached, and frequently these are tailored to specific topics.

Some of the most common elements that are found in all descriptions of the principle are:

  • Uncertainty
  • Damage
  • Consideration of the pros and cons
  • A transparent decision-making process
  • Stakeholder involvement, and several others.

The precautionary principle involves both morals and political factors. It aims to provide some guidance in protecting public health as well as the environment in the face of uncertain risks. It also states that the absence of full scientific certainty will not be used as a reason to postpone measures  where there is risk of serious, irreversible harm to either public health or the environment.


Can some uncertain risks be managed in OHS systems?

Even though OHS Management Systems are a valuable and trusted method for health and safety to be improved, it cannot be the only, most appropriate approach. OHS management systems are a continuous and consistent process which requires constant interpretation, adaption, anticipation, and monitoring.

They can alter over time as result of changes in the way that businesses operate, societies develop, and priorities as well as risk perceptions change. For this reason, the functioning of OHS systems involve:

  • Dynamic complexities
  • Uncertainties
  • Ambiguities


OHS Management systems are beneficial to risk assessments as well as risk appraisal during the risk governance process.


Risk perceptions and risk acceptance

Risk perception involves the subjective judgement that is made by people regarding the characteristics and severity attributed to risk. Perception of risk is typically used when referring to natural hazards and threats to the environment and/or health, for instance nuclear power.

At the level concerned with individual and societal risk perceptions, it can be distinguished as acceptable, tolerable, and constrained risks. OHS Management professionals must acknowledge that the different risk perceptions of different role-players in the organisation can influence the way through which risk governance is implemented.

There is also a need to assess as well as manage the perceptions of risks among all participants in the organisation to ensure that trust can be created and to prevent any unnecessary fears and/or opposition.

OHS professionals must ensure that they are aware of the way in which risk perceptions and risk awareness is established. This will depend on the workplace, users, suppliers, and the community in which the organisation operates. In addition, risk perceptions are also influenced, or manipulated by social media.


Communication of risks

The most crucial aim involved in the communication of risk is to build mutual trust by responding promptly to the concerns of the public, employees, and relevant stakeholders. Effective risk communication must assist internal as well as external participants in understanding the outcome of risk assessments as well as the decision regarding risk management.

Risk communication is imperative throughout the risk assessment process from faming issues to the monitoring of risk management decisions and their subsequent impacts. Risk communication has two crucial tasks, namely:

  • The establishment of a close link between those involved in the pre-assessment and the judgments of risks.
  • To effectively communicate risks in an appropriate manner internally and externally to the outside world. This requires an extensive and crucial consideration toward different viewpoints and agendas including those of the media, the public, and others, so that objective information regarding risks is conveyed.


How does SafetyWallet support its subscribers?

SafetyWallet, in partnership with MAKROSAFE and OHS Online, ensures that subscribers can obtain the highest level of compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, all other Regulations, and more.

Through the assistance and support in the health and safety programme of the subscriber, SafetyWallet helps subscribers with the health and safety risk assessments that must be conducted to ensure that subscribers are compliant in providing a healthy and safe working environment.

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Posted date: 23rd Apr 2021
Blogs - Health-and-Safety-Risk-Assessment