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Hazard Risk Assessment

The goal of a Hazard Risk Assessment is to remove or reduce risk by adding control measures to make a safer, healthier work environment. An effective Assessment creates awareness of hazards, helps identify who may be at risk, prioritizes those risks, and determines whether existing hazard controls are sufficient or need more attention to prevent injuries.

To begin a Hazard Risk Assessment, you must take a thorough look at the machinery being serviced and the plant overall to identify risk situations and processes that can potentially cause harm.  To simplify the process, a Risk Assessment can be broken into four steps:

1) Evaluate the job function
2) Identify all potential hazards
3) Determine who or what is affected by the hazards
4) Select an appropriate safe work plan and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). ​

Two important questions to ask while evaluating the job function (step 1) are what is expected of the employee working with and around equipment, and what are the essential duties, requirements and objectives for the job? For example, an employee’s job might be operating a bagging station and his duties are to fill bags with material. Think of the entire process that he will go through to complete this job objectives and what training, qualifications and abilities are needed to accomplish the work.

It is a good idea to include people who are involved in machine operations in identifying hazards (step 2) and those who might be affected by them (step 3). In the example given above, we evaluated the job function of a bagging station operator.  These functions also include non-routine activities like maintenance and cleaning of equipment and the surrounding area. In identifying potential hazards, check incident records if available. Then ask questions such as is there a hazard to visitors? How does a power outage affect the work and the machines?  What hazards such as moving parts or pinch points are present and where?  Is the operator expected to manually lift bags and could this cause back injury? Or at any time is the operator required to step away from the machine and leave it unattended?

An important component of a Hazard Risk Assessment is identifying the level (or likelihood) of a hazard. To do this, check manufacturer documentation, industry codes, material safety data sheets (MSDS), information about previous injuries, and accident reports. Remember that you also have to think about the work environment such as physical work space and cleanliness. Determine the level of skill operators performing the work must possess. You can then place the hazards you have identified into categories such as very unlikely, unlikely, likely, and very likely.

The final step in a Hazard Risk Assessment is to look at ways to control the hazards that have been identified. Start with the hazards most likely to occur. Solutions may be as simple as issuing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) like safety glasses to employees working in an area near a grinder or requiring employees to wear steel-toed boots where heavy material is being moved.  Is it possible to completely remove the hazard or can people be protected by inserting a “layer” between employees and a potential hazard (for example,  adding a safety curtain to restrict contact with running machinery)?  Implement as many hazard controls as is practical and necessary.

Finally, one of the most important things to remember in any risk assessment is documentation. Keep records of all accidents and “near misses”. This type of documentation will help to reveal hidden hazards over time. Review all Hazard Risk Assessments regularly, especially if new equipment is added to the plant floor and as new employees are introduced. Keeping everyone involved and informed is key to workplace safety.