A risk assessment

INTRODUCTION

What is a Risk Assessment?

A Risk Assessment is a thorough look at your workplace to identify those things, situations, processes, etc that may cause harm, particularly to people. After identification is made, you evaluate how likely and severe the risks is, and then decide what measures should be in place to effectively prevent or control the harm from happening.

Words associated with risk assessment:

HAZARD - A source or situation with the potential to cause loss to people, equipment and property.

Workplace hazards can be divided into six (6) groups:

  1. Physical Hazard - noise, electricity, heat and cold.
  2. Chemical Hazard - toxic gases, flammable and explosive substances.
  3. Ergonomic Hazard - the height of a workbench or the length of a control lever.
  4. Radiation Hazard - from x-ray machines or radioactive materials.
  5. Psychological Hazard - being over worked or stress from using equipment without proper training.
  6. Biological Hazard - syringes and specimen containers carrying potentially infected blood or material.

RISK - The likelihood of the hazard causing injury or illness.

Risk is governed by:

(i) Likelihood - or probability that an injury will result from the hazard occurring. It is also a measure of the level of contact that people have with the hazard.

(vi) Consequence - is the potential degree of harm of the hazard.

INCIDENT - Unplanned event that may or may not result in harm or loss.

DISCUSSION

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 2004 of Trinidad and Tobago, employers are required to take reasonably practicable steps, precautions to reduce significant risks to as low as possible in all areas in the workplace to safeguard all employees. It must contain suitable and relevant information that is useful to employees to understand the hazards they are exposed to during their daily work activities and must be undertaken by person(s) who are competent, well trained, experience and knowledgeable about the job. Not every job requires a risk assessment, only those activities that have the potential to cause harm.

An assessment must be reviewed if there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid or there has been significant change in the process etc, as stated in the OSH Act 2004

There is no right or wrong way to conduct a risk assessment and you cannot eliminate all the risks in your workplace. Risk assessments don't need to be overcomplicated, it should be simple and clear so that employees will fine it easy to follow.

When conducting a risk assessment, there is a common list of control measures in prioritised order that can be used to eliminate or minimise the risk.

These five (5) steps can be taken into account when doing a risk assessment.

Step 1

What are the hazards?

Spot hazards by:

  1. Walking around your workplace.
  2. Asking your employees what they think.
  3. Checking manufacturers' instructions.

Step 2

Who might be harmed and how?

Identify groups of people. Remember:

  1. Some workers have particular needs.
  2. People who may not be in the workplace all the time.
  3. Members of the public.
  4. If you share your workplace think about how your work affects others present.
  5. Say how the hazard could cause harm.

Step 3

What are you already doing?

  1. List what is already in place to reduce the likelihood of harm or make any harm less serious.
  2. What further action is necessary?

(vii) You need to make sure that you have reduced risks 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. An easy way of doing this is to compare what you are already doing with good practice. If there is a difference, list what needs to be done.

Step 4

How will you put the assessment into action?

  1. Remember to priorities. Deal with those hazards that are high-risk and have serious consequences first.
  2. Action Done by whom by when

Step 5

Review date:

  1. Review your assessment to make sure you are still improving, or at least not sliding back.
  2. If there is a significant change in your workplace, remember to check your risk assessment and, where necessary, amend it.

HIERARCHY OF RISK CONTROLS

The risks must be minimised to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking the following measures in the following order and as determined by the risk assessment. Elimination - The job is redesigned so as to remove the hazard. However, the alternative method should not lead to a less acceptable product or less effective process.

Substitution - Replace the material or process with a less hazardous one. For example, replace mercury thermometers with spirit thermometers. Engineering Controls - Install or using additional machinery such as local exhaust ventilation to control the risk. Separating the hazard from operators by methods such as enclosing or guarding dangerous items of machinery. For example, use guards on compression testing machines.

Administrative Controls - Reduce the time the worker is exposed to the hazard. Prohibit the eating, drinking and smoking in laboratory areas. Provide training. Perform risk assessments. Increase safety awareness signage.

Personal ProtectiveEquipment - Only after all the previous measures have been tried and found to be ineffective in controlling the risks should Personal Protective Equipment is considered. If chosen, PPE should be selected and fitted to the person who uses it. Workers must be trained in the function and limitation of each item of PPE. For example, an operator should know how long the compressed supply in a self contained breathing apparatus will last. PPE may be used as a temporary control measure until other alternatives are installed. In most cases a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls and PPE are chosen to effectively control the risks.

According to the OSH Act employers can be held accountable for failure to control health and safety issues in the workplace. There are safety and health offences and summary offences in which the Industrial court can impose a fine of up to twenty thousand dollars or in the event of critical injury, death or occupational disease one thousand dollars or any amount equivalent to three years pay whichever is greater. The Magistrate Court on Summary offences since no penalties are expressly provided can fine up to twenty thousand dollars and imprisonment for one year.

Inspectors of the OSH agency can access any industrial establishment in Trinidad and Tobago without giving notice and can issue improvement or prohibition notices under section 74 of the OSH act. When there is a serious risk of bodily harm or danger to the environment a prohibition notice is issued by the OSH Inspector, it restricts the use of any part of machinery or premises until this Act is complied wit or the dangers are removed. Under the ACT Improvement notices can identify areas that needs to comply with the ACT. Any person who obstructs an Inspector in his duties can be fine two thousand dollars or six months imprisonment.

CONCLUSION

As stated before, risk assessments should be simple and straightforward so that employees will be able to follow. You cannot eliminate all risks but you can minimize it as low as possible using the five sets mention earlier. An employer must take reasonable practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of his workers or be held accountable under the OSH Act. In my opinion, the fines stated in the OSH Act are too small because you cannot put a monetary value on a human life, but if you can it wouldn't be as small as twenty thousand dollars for a big company or corporation to pay. The fines should be of a higher value so by it self it can be a deterrent to companies.

REFERENCES

  1. Health and Safety Executive. Five Steps to Risk Assessment. [online] (revised 06/06) Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg163.pdf [cited 9 March 2010]
  2. Risk Assessment - The Basics [online] Available from: http://www.lbro.ac.uk/departments/tt/health_and_safety/pdf/Risk_Assessment_the_basics.pdf [cited 9 March 2010]
  3. The University of Western Australia. Safety Risk Management Procedures. [online] (Updated 3 November 2009) http://www.safety.uwa.edu.au/policies/safety_risk_management_procedures [cited 9 March 2010]
  4. Occupational Safety and Health Act 2004 as amended. (s 13A, 66, 67, 74, 76, 80), Trinidad and Tobago :
  5. The Trinidad and Tobago Occupational Safety and Health Authority and Agency (OSHA). A Guide to Risk Assessment. [online] (Updated 22 January 2010) Available from: http://www.ttosha.com [cited 9 March 2010]
  6. Perry., 2006. Health and Safety made Easy - Risk Assessment. [e-book]. Perry Scott Nash Group. Available from:
  7. Holt, A., 1991. Principles of Health and Safety at Work. 7th ed. United Kingdom: IOSH Services Limited.

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