A risk assessment is the process of evaluating the consequences expected from an incident arising out of a hazard, such as a fatality or an injury requiring medical treatment and time off work, combined with the probability of this incident occurring. It’s the second step in the risk management process.

You should begin your risk management process by identifying all the hazards in your workplace and then conducting a risk assessment for each hazard. This will determine how likely it is that exposure to that hazard will cause harm, as well as the severity of harm that is likely to result.

Another benefit of conducting risk assessments is that they help to identify which hazards require the most urgent attention.

Risk assessments can be undertaken in different ways, such as by an individual or a group, and have a flexible time limit. It can also evaluate the whole task or the individual steps involved in a task.

Risk assessments are most effective when the person or team assessing the hazards is well informed. This means having a good knowledge of the business and the workplace, materials, processes or situations that are being assessed. It is also helpful to have a thorough understanding of the potential injuries or illnesses that could be associated with the tasks.

If a risk assessment is being made of a work task that requires specific skills or knowledge, only a person who is qualified should conduct the risk assessment.

Let’s say you’re conducting a risk assessment on working in a confined space. Only a competent person will be able to identify that hazards such as oxygen deficiencies or the presence of toxic gas will exist, and so they should be involved in the risk assessment.

When assessing risks associated with hazards, consider all existing risk controls but do not assume they will always work. When assessing a hazard that already has some risk controls in place, you should assess the risk both with and without the existing controls so that all potential risks can be identified.

And don’t forget to assess risks at different times at your workplace, such as when the site is busy, when forklifts are operating, trucks are making deliveries, equipment is being cleaned or maintained, or if new workers are operating equipment or are in the vicinity.

Consequences

Remember, when you are conducting a risk assessment, you should consider what are the likely consequences of the hazard, i.e. what types of injuries or illnesses are likely to result? And how many people might be exposed to the hazard?

What is the likely severity of any injury, illness or damage? Will experience help reduce the risk? If risk control measures are in place, are they sufficient to eliminate or adequately reduce the risk?

A simple example would be if, during a site inspection, it was found that a rarely used wooden office desk had started to splinter. Gaffer tape had been placed across the splintered corner and appeared to be quite secure. The likelihood of injury from the desk is very low.

But if someone removed the tape and began using the desk, the risk of injury would increase. First aid may be required to remove a splinter, maybe some disinfectant used and a cover for the wound. This is a low-risk hazard as an injury is unlikely to occur and if it does occur, it is unlikely to be serious.

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