Managing Hazards in the Workplace
A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm (e.g. substances, equipment, methods of work etc).
The risk from a hazard is the likelihood that it will cause harm in the circumstances of use. The level of risk is dependent on the nature of the hazard, who is exposed, the length of exposure and the effect of the hazard on health and/or safety.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance (INDG 163 – Five Steps to Risk Assessment) on how a risk assessment should be conducted. This assessment can help employers when managing hazards in the workplace:
Hazards and Risks are present in every work environment, so it is essential that the below steps are followed:
Step 1 – Look for hazards.
If you are doing the assessment yourself, walk around your workplace and look afresh at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Ignore the trivial and concentrate on significant hazards which could result in serious harm or affect several people. Ask your employees or their representatives what they think. They may have noticed things which are not immediately obvious. Manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets can also help you spot hazards and put risks in their true perspective. So can accident and ill-health records.
Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed and how.
Apart from employees you may need to consider:
- Young workers, trainees, new and expectant mothers, etc who may be at particular risk.
- Cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, etc who may not be in the workplace all the time.
- Members of the public, or people you share your workplace with, if there is a chance they could be hurt by your activities.
Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing precautions are adequate
Consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not you need to do more to reduce the risk. Even after all precautions have been taken, some risk usually remains. What you have to decide for each significant hazard is whether this remaining risk is high, medium or low.
First, ask yourself whether you have done all the things that the law says you have got to do. For example, there are legal requirements on prevention of access to dangerous parts of machinery. Then ask yourself whether generally accepted industry standards are in place. The aim should be to make all risks small by adding to your precautions as necessary.
If you find that something needs to be done, draw up an ‘action list’ and give priority to any remaining risks which are high and/or those which could affect most people. In taking action ask yourself:
- Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
- If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
In controlling risks apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:
- Try a less risky option.
- Prevent access to the hazard (e.g. by guarding).
- Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard.
- Issue personal protective equipment.
- Provide welfare facilities (e.g. washing facilities for removal of contamination and first aid)
Improving health and safety need not be costly. For instance, placing a mirror on a dangerous blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents, or putting some non-slip material on slippery steps, are inexpensive precautions considering the risks. Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen.
Step 4 – Record your findings
If you have fewer than five employees you do not need to write anything down, though it is useful to keep a written record of what you have done. But if you employ five or more people you must record the significant findings of your assessment. This means writing down the significant hazards and conclusions. Examples might be ‘Electrical installations: insulation and earthing checked and found sound’ or ‘Fume from welding: local exhaust ventilation provided and regularly checked’.
You must also tell your employees about your findings.
Step 5 – Review your assessment and revise it if necessary
Sooner or later you will bring in new machines, substances and procedures which could lead to new hazards. If there is any significant change, add to the assessment to take account of the new hazard. Don’t amend your assessment for every trivial change, or still more, for each new job, but if a new job introduces significant new hazards of its own, you will want to consider them in their own right and do whatever you need to keep the risks down. In any case, it is good practice to review your assessment from time to time to make sure that the precautions are still working effectively.