Keeping the workplace safe and free from serious accident and injury for all employees begins with identifying and assessing the risks. Before you can begin to control the risks, you have to know what they are and how they interact with day-to-day operations. It is only then that you can start working on ways to reduce, mitigate, and eliminate the risks as much as possible to make the workplace safer for all.
The focus should, of course, be on the risks that pose the greatest risk to life and limb, however, smaller risks shouldn’t be ignored either. Risks that may seem small can easily develop into a severe incident when left unmonitored and unattended.
Why Are Risk Control Measures So Important?
Risk control measures are a crucial tool to aid in the prevention of accident or injury in the workplace. They should form part of the company’s broader health and safety plan providing a method to identify, control, and reduce the risks present in the workplace.
When being used as part of an all-encompassing occupational health and safety plan risk assessment and control measures provide a number of benefits to your workplace.
• Identification of at-risk employees. Knowing who is at risk the most and what risk factors they are exposed to means a plan to mitigate or eliminate those risks can be developed.
• Awareness of factors that cannot be eliminated. It may be possible to eliminate some of the risk factors completely, however, some factors will always be present and can only be reduced. Creating awareness of those factors means that those exposed know what to look out for and understand the importance of any mitigation methods.
• Control method efficiency determinations. Continual reassessment of the risks allows you to determine whether the control methods applied have been effective in reducing or eliminating the risks or whether they should be re-evaluated.
• Prevent or reduce instances of accident or injury. When implemented as part of the original design of the workplace and its health and safety plans, control measures and risk assessments will reduce or eliminate the number of accidents or injuries.
• Fulfil legal obligations. Depending on the jurisdiction and the type of business and workplace there may be legal obligations that require you to identify risks and implement control measures accordingly. Failure to do so can result in severe corporate and personal fines, in addition to incarceration depending on the severity, prior knowledge, and casualties of the risk factor.
What Are Risk Control Measures and How Can They Be Utilised for a Safer Work Environment?
Risk control measures are actions that are taken in response to a risk factor that has the potential to cause accident or harm in the workplace. The control measures can either be designed to reduce the risks or eliminate them completely, with the latter obviously being preferred. Control measures follow a hierarchical pattern, with each step being worked through and implemented to control and minimise the risk identified.
Risk Elimination (Most Preferred)
Risk elimination is at the top of the hierarchy, being the most preferred option to control an identified risk. It will obviously not be possible to completely remove all risks, but this should be the first option considered and assessed as it offers the greatest protection by removing the risk completely. An example of risk elimination could be rerouting cables to remove a trip hazard in walkways.
Substituting a risk won’t be as effective as removing the risk completely as it is possible that the new system will introduce new risks and hazards. These hazards are likely to be unknown initially and will, therefore, require a new risk assessment to evaluate any new or changed risks. An example of risk substitution could be substituting bleach-based cleaning products that can fatally interact with other chemicals with safer alternatives. In that scenario, however, a risk of chemical exposure or inhalation may still be present with the new product, but the risk of a fatal interaction has been removed or reduced.
Risk isolation is a control measure designed to either isolate the risk itself from the employee or person that may experience it or isolate access to the risk factor to only authorised personnel, properly trained in it’s handling and usage. This could involve placing dangerous or noisy equipment in a locked or soundproof room where operators can monitor it remotely, or it could be storing dangerous chemicals in a secure area that only chemical safety trained personnel can access.
This control measure involves redesigning something at the engineering level to remove or reduce the risk. Examples of engineering risk control measures could be installing a physical safety guard between the moving parts of a machine and the operator, or it could be installing safety cut-offs to allow fast shutdown in the case of imminent accident or injury.
Administrative controls are control measures based around the training, planning, and personnel assignment of hazardous environments. This control measure may involve things such as developing best practice guidelines, arranging additional training, and ensuring that employees assigned to areas highlighted as a risk factor have the requisite training.
Personal Protective Equipment (Least Preferred)
While this final risk control measure is the least preferred option, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should normally be utilised even when the risks are being controlled by measures further up the hierarchy. PPE serves as the last line of defence to protect employees from the risk. Whenever possible, PPE should not be relied on as the only control measure. Examples of PPE are respirators (ranging from single-use to full filtration depending on the environment), hard-hats, protective eye-wear, and noise-reducing ear protection.
While these risk control measures follow a hierarchical structure from most preferred to least preferred, it’s unlikely they will be used in isolation of each other. When controlling risks the best option will often be a combination of the above controls, for example isolating the risk while still providing employees with PPE in case isolation has to be breached.
Contact Conserve to see how we can help you control risk in the workplace.