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Risk Assessment Guide

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What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment is a systematic examination of your workplace to: 1) identify significant hazards; 2) assess injury severity and likelihood; and 3) implement control measures to reduce workplace risks

Beyond complying with legislative requirements, the purpose of risk assessments are to improve the overall health and safety of your workers.

Risk assessments are often confused with a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). The key difference between a risk assessment and a JSA is scope. Risk assessments assess safety hazards across the entire workplace and are oftentimes accompanied with a risk matrix to prioritize hazards and controls. Whereas a JSA focuses on job-specific risks and are typically performed for a single task, assessing each step of the job.

How to Perform a Risk Assessment?

Risk assessments should be carried out by competent persons who are experienced in assessing hazard injury severity, likelihood and control measures. A new risk assessment should be carried out when there are new machines, substances and procedures which could lead to new hazards. They should be reviewed regularly and kept up to date.

Here are 5 steps to follow when performing a risk assessment in your workplace:

  1. Identify hazards: Survey the workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Identify common workplace hazards. Check manufacturers or suppliers instructions or data sheets for any obvious hazards. Review previous accident and near-miss reports.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how: Identify which group and demographic of workers might be harmed. Ask workers if they can think of anyone else who could be harmed by the hazard.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on control measures: Look for existing controls in place. Follow the hierarchy of controls in prioritizing implementation of controls.
  4. Record your findings and implement them: Use a risk assessment template to document your findings. Get started with iAuditor’s free risk assessment templates that you can use on your mobile device while on-site. Share your report and findings with key parties who can implement changes.
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary: Follow up with your assessments to check if controls have been put in place or if any new hazards have resulted

How to use a Risk Matrix?

Likelihood Very Likely Unlikely Unlikely Highly Unlikely
Consequences Fatality High High High Medium
Major Injuries High High Medium Medium
Minor Injuries High Medium Medium Low
Negligible Injuries Medium Medium Low Low

A risk matrix is often used during a risk assessment to measure the level of risk by considering the consequence/ severity and likelihood of injury to a worker after being exposed to a hazard. The two measures can then help determine the overall risk rating of the hazard. Two key questions to ask when using a risk matrix should be:

  1. Consequences: How bad would the most severe injury be if exposed to the hazard?
  2. Likelihood: How likely is the person to be injured if exposed to the hazard?

How to Assess Consequences?

In assessing the consequences of a hazard, the first question should be asked “If a worker is exposed to this hazard, how bad would the most probable severe injury be?”. For this consideration we are presuming that a hazard and injury is inevitable and we are only concerned with its severity.

It is common to group the injury severity and consequence into the following four categories:

  • Fatality – leads to death
  • Major or serious injury – serious damage to health which may be irreversible, requiring medical attention and ongoing treatment
  • Minor injury – reversible health damage which may require medical attention but limited ongoing treatment). This is less likely to involve significant time off work.
  • Negligible injuries – first aid only with little or no lost time.

To illustrate how this can be used in the workplace we will use the example of a metal shearing task. A hazard involved could include a piece of metal flying out of the equipment while in use. In this example the probable most severe injury would be “Major or Serious Injury” with the possibility of bruising, breakage, finger amputation.

How to Assess Likelihood?

In assessing the likelihood, the question should be asked “If the hazard occurs, how likely is it that the worker will be injured?”. This should not be confused with how likely the hazard is to occur. It is common to group the likelihood of a hazard causing worker injury into the following four categories:

  • Very likely – exposed to hazard continuously.
  • Likely – exposed to hazard occasionally.
  • Unlikely – could happen but only rarely.
  • Highly unlikely – could happen, but probably never will.

In our metal shearing example the question should not be “How likely is the machine expected to fail?” but instead “When the machine fails and causes metal to fly out, how likely is the worker expected to be injured?”. If in our example we observe a safe distance between the machine and worker and proper PPE being worn, we could rate it as “Unlikely” given our observations

We recommend OSHA’s great learning resources in understanding how to assess consequence and likelihood in your risk assessments.

How to Implement Control Measures?

After identifying and assigning a risk rating to a hazard, effective controls should be implemented to protect workers. Working through a hierarchy of controls can be an effective method of choosing the right control measure to reduce the risk.

OSHA recommends the following guidelines to accomplish hazard control

  • Eliminate or control all serious hazards immediately.
  • Use interim controls while you develop and implement longer-term solutions.
  • Select controls according to a hierarchy that emphasizes engineering solutions (including elimination or substitution) first, followed by safe work practices, administrative controls, and finally personal protective equipment.
  • Avoid selecting controls that may directly or indirectly introduce new hazards.
  • Review and discuss control options with workers to ensure that controls are feasible and effective.
  • Use a combination of control options when no single method fully protects workers.

Risk Assessment Examples

Risk assessments are essential to identify hazards and risks that may potentially cause harm to workers. There are a variety of risk assessments used across different industries tailoring specific needs and control measures. Here are some risk assessment examples:

  • Health and Safety Risk Assessment – a type of risk assessment used by safety managers to determine health and safety risks associated with the job, work environment, and current processes. Hazards can be identified as biological, chemical, energy, environmental, and the like.  
  • Legionella Risk Assessment – an evaluation performed by property managers or competent individuals in inspecting water systems to prevent the growth of legionella bacteria that may cause harm or fatality from Legionnaire’s disease.
  • Noise Risk Assessment – an assessment implemented and required by the UK government to identify risks of excessive noise exposure at work. 
  • Stress Risk Assessment – a type of risk assessment that aims to mitigate work-related stress and anxiety in the workplace.
  • Fraud Risk Assessment – an evaluative tool used by risk managers to proactively identify the vulnerability of a business or organization by determining fraud factors.
  • Dynamic Risk Assessment – a generic assessment used to identify dynamic risks that are caused by organizational and environmental changes. These risks are difficult to predict that is why regular and thorough risk assessments are recommended.
  • Lone Working Risk Assessment – a type of risk assessment required by the UK government to identify workplace hazards that lone workers may encounter on their shifts. This helps ensure that lone workers are safe and protected from unwanted incidents.
  • School Risk Assessment – used to inspect school premises, this risk assessment is a systematic evaluation of hazards and risks that might affect students, teachers, and other school personnel. 
  • Office Risk Assessment – performed by office managers and school administrators, this tool helps ensure that a workplace is free from health and safety threats. This assessment also helps boost employee morale and productivity.
  • Flood Risk Assessment – using this type of risk assessment helps identify sources and levels of flood risks to any property or site. 
  • Event Risk Assessment – a risk assessment used by even planners to spot significant risks that occur before, during, and after an event.
  • Construction Risk Assessment – a vital assessment used in the construction site to help safety teams implement corrective measures and stakeholders comply with safety regulations.
  • Chemical Risk Assessment – used to recommend controls to minimize exposure of workers to harmful substances. This risk assessment critically checks how chemicals are transported, stored, and handled.
  • Plant Risk Assessment – a type of risk assessment to proactively mitigate plant risks by determining hazards and the severity of injury and damage to workers and property. 
  • DSEAR Risk Assessment – is a risk assessment to abide by the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) implement by the UK government to prevent risks of fire, explosion, and metal corrosion caused by harmful substances in the workplace.
  • Dust Risk Assessment –  performed by safety professionals to comply with the COSHH Regulations and regulate construction activities that may create high levels of dust leading to more chronic health impacts. 
  • CDM Risk Assessment – is part of the HSE regulatory standard that aims to manage construction risks concerning projects.

Now You Know

Risk assessments can be seen as a regulatory paperwork burden, but understanding the reason and purpose of a risk assessment will help your team identify, prioritize and control hazards in your workplace.


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Sare Hawes

SafetyCulture staff writer