Hazard Identification and Risk Management 101
When we talk about effective workplace health and safety management systems, we often talk about workplace hazards and risks. More specifically, how we can achieve proactive hazard identification followed by successful risk management.
So, what is hazard identification and risk management, how do we go about it, and why is it important in our workplace?
In this article, we answer these questions along with other common queries regarding hazard identification and risk management in the workplace.
What is a Hazard? What is a Risk?
A hazard is defined by Safe Work Australia as “a situation or thing that has the potential to harm a person“. A risk is defined as “the possibility that harm (death, injury or illness) might occur when exposed to a hazard“.
For example, boiling water in a saucepan on a kitchen cooktop is a hazard, as it has the potential to harm a person. The risk associated with this hazard is being burned, as this may occur if you are exposed to the hazard. Another common example of a hazard in the workplace is lifting heavy boxes (manual handling), the associated risks may include slips, trips or falls, or muscle sprains and strains while undertaking the manual handling (being exposed to the hazard).
With an understanding of what hazards and risks are, we can now start to understand the hazard identification and risk management process.
What is Risk Management?
The overall risk management process involves identifying hazards, assessing the risks associated with the hazard, implementing controls to eliminate or lower the risks then reviewing and maintaining the controls. We will now investigate each step of this process further.
Four Steps of Hazard Identification and Risk Management
What is Hazard Identification?
Hazard identification in the workplace is the first important step in understanding your risks and implementing controls, where necessary.
Hazard identification is best undertaken as a multi-faceted approach using a range of methods including the following:
1. Risk Assessment Workshops
Engage with management, staff, key stakeholders, etc. through collaborative workshops to discuss operations and tasks to identify hazards and assess risks.
2. Worker and Employee Consultation
Encourage staff feedback. Critically important for larger businesses where management cannot oversee all aspects of work. Front line workers are a great asset for identifying and reporting hazards.
3. Workplace Inspections and Audits
Regular workplace inspections and audits help to reveal any new or changed workplace tasks or operations which may result in additional or changed hazards.
4. Incident Reporting and Review
Meticulous incident reporting and review highlights any key contributing hazards.
5. Review of Operators Manuals and Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
Some hazards can be already identified on documents such as machinery, plant or vehicle operational manuals, or hazardous substances and dangerous goods SDS.
What are the types of Hazards?
Different hazards will be identified within your workplace depending on the nature and location of your operations. Hazards can be categorised into the following types:
Hazards that are physical conditions or factors within the workplace that can adversely impact health and safety. Examples include heat exposure, working at heights, working in confined spaces.
Hazards that may pose a biological threat to human health. Examples include diseases or viruses transmitted through human, animal, or plant matter.
Hazardous chemicals which pose a human health risk if not correctly managed. Examples include flammable liquids, toxins or carcinogens.
Hazards that are physical factors in the work environment that may cause musculoskeletal disorders or injuries. Examples include poor office and equipment layouts, workstation design.
Hazards that are factors or aspects of work that have the potential to cause psychological harm. Examples include bullying, sexual harassment and fatigue.
What is the Aim of Hazard Identification?
Hazard identification is a crucial part in your overall risk management process. It provides a stocktake of all foreseeable and anticipated hazards that may arise in the workplace during typical operations as well as in an emergency situation.
A thorough hazard identification process sets the foundations for targeted risk assessments, implementation of controls and overall management of risk for your operations.
What is a Risk Assessment?
Assessing risks is the second step of the risk management process and is directly informed by the hazard identification stage. Risk assessment involves analysing each hazard to understand the related risks and the nature of harm that could be caused. A risk assessment should detail the severity of the risk (how serious are the consequences), as well as the likelihood of the risk resulting in injury or harm. Let’s look at our example of lifting heavy boxes again…
Heavy boxes (the hazard) are required to be moved from a removalist truck into a house. Staff moving the boxes will be exposed to the hazard while they are moving them, engaging in manual handling. During manual handling, there is a risk of muscle strains or sprains.
There are various risk assessment matrices and tools to determine risk ratings, however for this example, let’s keep it simple. So we may determine the severity of the risk for a muscle strain as low-medium as it is typically not associated with a long-term disabling injury, however, it may require medical attention. The likelihood of this occurring during manual handling we might determine as high (probable). Based on our risk assessment we have now identified a highly probable risk with a low-medium severity rating.
Now we have identified and assessed our risk, let’s look at implementing controls.
How to Control Risks in the Workplace
Implementing controls can lower the severity or likelihood of the risk resulting in injury or harm. By lowering the severity and likelihood, the overall risk is reduced or may be eliminated. To determine effective and appropriate controls, the hierarchy of controls is used.
The hierarchy of controls outlines the most effective controls in reducing risk through to the least effective controls. Eliminating or removing the hazard is the highest level of control. If the hazard cannot be eliminated, the risk associated with the hazard can be lowered through isolation, substitution or engineering controls. Then, the risk of the hazard can be lowered using administrative controls. Lastly, personal protective equipment can be used to reduce the risk of harm to workers. Let’s look at our manual handling example again.
We cannot eliminate the hazard as moving heavy boxes is a key task for removalists. Engineering controls in the form of mechanical aid could be implemented such as use of pallet jack or trolley where possible. If engineering, isolation or substitution controls are not feasible, we could implement an administrative control, being a safe manual handling procedure and training for staff. A combination of controls may be required to lower the overall risk of the hazard.
Review and Maintain Control Measures
It is important to regularly review your controls to ensure their effectiveness. There are two main components to consider when reviewing your control measures.
First, when you will review your controls. Managing hazards and risks is an ongoing process, so you should be reviewing your control measures regularly. A schedule should set for when the reviews will happen. How frequently these reviews are scheduled will depend on the nature of your organisation. For example, if your company deals with numerous high risks, your control measures should be reviewed more frequently.
In addition to a review schedule, your organisation’s work health and safety plan should include triggers that indicate when a risk review is required. By having these outlined, it will ensure that measures are reviewed in advance of your schedule if necessary. Risk control measures would be reviewed when:
- The control measure is not working such as when someone is injured or experiences a ‘near miss’
- Workplace layouts or practices are changed
- New equipment, materials or work processes are introduced
- A new problem is identified
- Audits, inspections or consultation with identify that a review is necessary
Why is Risk Management Important for Your Organisation?
Now that we have an understanding of hazard identification and risk management, what are the benefits to your organisation?
All organisations have a legal responsibility in Australia to provide a safe work environment. Identifying hazards is the first step in removing or mitigating risks, and preventing work-related injuries or fatalities.
Additionally, being a responsible employer by taking an active role in worker safety by reducing hazards will reflect better on your company both in the market and community.
Need help with your hazard identification and risk management? Our team are skilled in a range of industries and operations, and would be happy to discuss how we can best help, contact us should you need support.