| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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A safety assessment is a systematic procedure that aims to identify anything endangering any people involved, including workers, contractors, visitors, customers, or the general public. The risk could also result in an otherwise unwanted outcome, including bodily harm, legal or regulatory liability, or loss of property or productivity.
Safety assessment is a vital part of your health and safety strategy. When you execute a proper assessment, you discover hazards and risks, identify personnel at risk, and define where control measures are needed to prevent illness and injury. Eventually, this process will lead to a safety guide. Safety guides provide recommendations on how to comply with the safety requirements, indicating an internal - and sometimes industry-wide - consensus that it is necessary to take the recommended measures. They present good practices to help users strive to achieve high levels of safety through regulations.
In general, a safety or risk assessment is a thorough look at your workplace to identify situations, processes, etc., that may cause harm, particularly to people. After identification, you analyse and evaluate the safety risk's likely and severe. When this determination is made, you can next decide what measures should be in place to eliminate or control the harm from happening effectively. A safety assessment identifies potential damage and involves risk analysis and the likelihood of a risk.
Additionally, the overall purpose of safety assessment is to focus on providing your workers with a safe, healthy environment diminishing potential liability issues. Since each workplace is unique, your safety team should always customise the safety assessment based on individual conditions on-site.
The best recommendation in managing safety risks is to have a regular schedule for safety assessment, e.g. a specific time each year. Sometimes they coincide with new or updated processes in the workplace, such as new legal regulations, implementation of new activities or acute hazards identified in the workplace.
Depending on the situation (mentioned above), the type of safety assessment in your workplace must be relevant to the activities. Typically, this can include an overall evaluation of safety influencing factors, unsafe substances, digital and equipment risks for the company, safety risks that arise from manual handling and fire risk assessments.
Identifying the goal of this safe assessment is a necessary step to ensure that you stay on the path with the design and implementation. The goal is to try to respond to questions like:
When you plan your safety assessment, determine the scope of the evaluation and the resources needed (e.g. team members need the training to carry out the assessment), the type of risk analysis measures, involved stakeholders, all relevant external or internal regulations and standards. Often, the people involved are those impacted by the assessment outcome: directors, supervisors, representatives, risk auditors, etc.
Before performing a safety assessment, you need to define criteria for describing varying levels and types of safety risk like probability, consequences and risk levels. For instance: How are you comparing and measuring risks to prioritise the most important things to address in the workplace? Is it likely that this risk could cause harm to the business, people, or property? Think also about combined risks (multiple risks combined).
One specific aspect of safety assessment is so-called acceptable safety risks: Unfortunately, a zero-risk world is, per definition, not possible as the world is in constant change. That's why we need to look at them. Some of them may be less impactful. We can call them acceptable as they will happen but don't have a meaningful impact on our business. Based on company objectives and culture, what is ok to accept?
As a safety assessment is a foundation for creating a safe, healthy workplace for employees, identifying potential hazards and risks is the first step. Then, you can design and implement systems and controls to reduce risk to safety.
First, a competent person or team should conduct safety assessments with excellent working knowledge of the studied situation, including the supervisors and workers most familiar with the operation.
You will try to identify safety hazards first:
A systematic approach is categorising hazardous activities when you identify them:
Another way to identify safety hazards is to look back at incidents in the past, as these can help you identify less obvious safety risks. Take account of non-routine operations, such as maintenance, cleaning or changes in production cycles. Additionally, some staffers have particular requirements, for example, young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities.
In addition to studying the recorded incidents, look at near-miss records to discover potential ways to prevent near-misses from turning into accidents. Accidents and incidents should not happen in general, so every report should have a goal of preventing these incidents from happening again in the future.
When identifying safety-related aspects of your workplace, also look into and be sure of:
The methods and procedures used in processing, using, handling or storing the substance, etc.
The people who work off-site either at home, other job sites, drivers, home office, clients, etc.
Non-routine activities such as maintenance, repair, or cleaning.
The actual and the potential exposure of workers (e.g., how many workers may be exposed, what that exposure is/will be, and how often they will be exposed).
The measures and procedures necessary to control such exposure through engineering controls, work practices, and hygiene practices and facilities.
The duration, frequency and the location of the task (how long and how often a job is done).
The machinery, devices, materials, etc. that are used in the process and how they are used (e.g., the physical state of a chemical or lifting heavy loads for a distance).
Any possible interactions with other activities on the site and if the task could affect others (e.g., cleaners, visitors, etc.).
Any product, machine or equipment that could be intentionally or unintentionally changed.
The product's lifecycle, process or service.
Any person's reaction in a particular situation (e.g., what would be the most common reaction by a person if the machine failed or malfunctioned).
Review all of the phases of the lifecycle.
Any risks to visitors or the public.
A safety risk assessment is only effective if you analyse the information correctly and then communicate with appropriate team members to implement the changes that you need to make. Therefore, as you design your risk assessment program, you should always build an implementation plan. It comes down to three steps: analysis, evaluation, and communication.
Once safety hazards are identified, determine the likelihood of harm. Consider everyday operational situations and non-standard events such as maintenance, shutdowns, power outages, emergencies, extreme weather, etc.
Through the risk analysis process, prioritise the highest safety risks first. Then, as solutions are implemented, you can work your way down the remainder of the list to address lower risk concerns.
Risk analysis is where you can use a risk matrix to break down the categories of frequency and severity. This matrix creates a tool that highlights the visibility of risks, giving management information to use in decision making.
Most risk matrices have the probability or likelihood listed on the side (x-axis) and the severity or consequences listed at the top (y-axis). For example, the likelihood ratings can include a range:
Then, the severity ratings might use this rating range:
Overall, the goal is to find and record possible hazards present in your workplace. It may help to work as a team and include both people familiar with the work area and people who are not. This way, you have both the experienced and fresh eye to conduct the inspection. In either case, the person or team should be competent to carry out the assessment and have good knowledge about the hazard being assessed. They will identify any situations that might occur and suggest protective measures appropriate to that hazard or risk. Eventually, they will begin implementing safety measures to eliminate the threat or control the risk using the hierarchy of risk control methods.