Identifying risks in the work environment is one of the most important responsibilities of an employer for occupational health and safety management.
The duty of each employer is to constantly monitor the work environment at the workplace. They need to identify the hazards that may be associated with the execution of the work or the work environment, and then assess the potential impact on the safety and health of their employees. In this way, the employer identifies any items that need to be fixed or if there are opportunities to improve working conditions or processed.
Identifying risks in the work environment is one of the most important responsibilities of an employer in occupational health and safety management. It is important to respond to the risks by exploring the possibility of removing them or taking preventive action. By applying risk assessment, accidents, mishaps and psychological strain in the workplace can be reduced significantly.
It is important that the risk assessment is carried out in a well-established manner. The method chosen for the assessment must be appropriate to both the activities of the workplace and its size. Furthermore, the employer must ensure that those who carry out the assessment have sufficient ability to do so. There are “best practices” available that describe how it is best to regularly review all aspects so as to ensure that the necessary improvements are implemented and their results are evaluated.
It is important to consult with staff when risk assessment is to be carried out or when it is time to review previous assessments. This is especially true for the employees who have been assigned a role in the occupational health and safety management of the workplace, such as safety officers, safety representatives and members of safety committees.
Conducting a Risk Assessment
The employer is responsible for conducting a risk assessment which is relevant to their place of work. All tasks within the workplace must be systematically reviewed and the risks assessed that may effect the safety, health and wellbeing of employees.
Various methods are available for conducting a risk assessment. The nature of the operations, the personnel, the size and structure of the organization shall also be taken into account. It is important that the assessment covers all activities relevant to the workplace, but special attention should be paid to activities where it is foreseeable that the health and safety of the employees performing them is at greater risk than other employees.
It is good to assess the risk on the basis of the five pillars of occupational health and safety:
- Chemicals and their use
- Social work environment
- Motor and musculoskeletal system
- Environmental factors
- Machinery and equipment
When assessing risk factors in the workplace, it is important not to make any assumptions as to what kind of risks may exist in the workplace. Some risk factors are obvious in the operations while others are more difficult to identify, like those related to the psychosocial environment. Human behavior needs to be carefully considered and the conditions in which employees are likely to make mistakes, such as due to high workload, poor communication, unusual tasks, end of shift or even the first working day after summer vacation.
Various aids can be used to access risk factors. When the risk assessment requires skills that are not available to the employer or their staff, authorized service providers must be contacted. Even if the employer enlists the services of an authorized service provider, they are nevertheless responsible for the preparation of the plan and its implementation.
Examples of aids:
Oira – Electronic Risk Assessment
Response to Risk Assessment Results
Following the risk assessment, a summary of its results shall be prepared. Included in the summary should be the most important response to control the identified risk. The employer may need to improve the work environment by either avoiding the risk or reducing it to the lowest practical level. This means that the risk must be controlled such that the minimum requirements set out in laws and regulations in the field of occupational health and safety are met. The results therefore lead to the preparation of a prevention plan if no immediate action can be taken.
The aim is always to ensure that employees are exposed to as little risk as is practical to achieve. Thus, it is a good rule of thumb that if the risk can be completely avoided, such as by making technical improvements, that should be the first choice. Alternately, use of protection shields or other safety devices on machinery can also be applied. Furthermore, training and guidance to staff regarding safety needs to be revised.
Reviewing the Risk Assessment
The employer must monitor whether the risk control they have installed following the risk assessment have had the desired effect on the safety and health of employees and if further action is needed. It may be necessary to define a measurement standard to assess the impact. Sometimes people believe that something is working, which may not be the case when you take a closer look.
The employer must also review the risk assessment regularly so that it is always relevant to the actual conditions at the workplace at any given time. The assessment therefore requires constant review and adjustment. It is recommended that risk assessments be reviewed at least annually and more frequently when:
- New workstations are put into operation
- External conditions in the workplace have changed
- New machinery or technical equipment is put into operation
- New chemicals and mixtures are introduced
- There are changes in the execution of the work, working methods or processes
- Accidents or mishaps occur or the risk of damage to health is considered greater than previously assumed
It is also important that employers closely monitor that the risk control measures that should be in place are still relevant and have the desired effect of promoting health and preventing or reducing the risk. This aspect must not be relaxed, even if the workplace has been safe for some time. Prevention measures may lose their effectiveness over time or become obsolete as new “best practice” measures becomes
The Role of Employees
It is important to assure that employees are willing and able to participate in the preparation of a risk assessment.
Furthermore, employees must inform their employer, safety officer or safety representative if they notice anything in the workplace that may threaten the safety or health of employees in the workplace. This may be due to the working environment itself, such as noise, chemical use or poor working conditions, the safety of machinery and equipment, or when appropriate personal protective equipment is not available or damaged. The same applies when psychosocial factors are lacking, such as in the case of difficult communication, slander or unreasonable workload.
Employees are also responsible for limiting the risks in the work environment in their daily work in accordance with the employer’s instructions, such as following standards, safety rules, criteria and safe work practices. This also applies when there is an imminent risk which needs to be responded to in a safe manner. The employer, safety officer and safety representative must also be informed of the incident.