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Safety Management Insights

The Ultimate Guide to Risk Assessments

Posted by Doug Shoemaker on Dec 23, 2020 5:45:57 AM

The ultimate guide to risk assessmentsAre you unsure what a risk assessment is? Do you perform them currently but need a better risk assessment process? Maybe you have a great process but you are looking for a better way to manage all of your risk assessments or risk management program. Regardless of why you ended up here, if you are looking for answers about risk assessments, you will find them here!

Before jumping into risk assessments, there are a few terms you should be familiar with.

  • Hazard identification or hazard ID- the process of finding, listing, and characterizing hazards.
  • Risk analysis or risk estimation- the process for understanding hazards and determining the level of risk associated with them.
  • Risk evaluation- the process of comparing an estimated risk against a specific criterion to determine how significant the risk is.
  • Hazard control or control methods- the actions taken or controls put in place to mitigate risk.
  • Risk matrix or risk assessment matrix- a form used to calculate the probability and severity level of risk associated with a particular activity.

Check out our free risk matrix here! It’s a great place to start, however, our risk assessment software takes risk management programs to the next level!

What is a Risk Assessment?

Risk Assessment ExampleRisk assessment is the term used by safety professionals to describe the process or method used to identify hazards and risks that have the potential to negatively impact you or your organization in some way. It uses risk analysis methods to help determine the best way to control risk or eliminate hazards in the best-case scenario. Risk assessments are typically completed by the safety team.

A thorough risk evaluation should identify things, situations, or processes that have potential to cause harm. The risk matrix portion of a risk assessment should help analyze and evaluate both the risk likelihood and the risk severity. After that determination has been made, the risk assessment should help decide what measures, or control methods, are best to eliminate or reduce the harm.

The Importance of Risk Assessment

Risk assessments are an important part of any well-run organization and should be included in every environmental, health, and safety management plan's risk management methods. Risk assessments are used to:

  • Increase awareness of existing hazards and risk and to identify potential hazards
  • Determine who is at risk
  • Determine what programs or activities require control programs or changes to existing control measures
  • Prevent injuries and illnesses
  • Determine the priorities of changes in an organization
  • Help meet legal requirements

What is the Goal of Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment process is used to evaluate existing or potential hazards, then remove or mitigate the level of risk or potential risk by adding control measures if necessary. In plain English, they make your workplace safer, healthier, and better managed. A good risk assessment answers the questions: How likely is a certain situation going to happen, and what are the consequences and likelihood of them taking place? It should also tell you how well the risk is controlled or if it requires further control methods.

When Should Risk Assessments be completed?

Risk assessments are a great tool to have in your company's safety arsenal, but there is a time and a place for them as not every situation requires one. Here are some situations that would require a risk assessment-
  • Before a new process or activity is introduced.
  • Before changes are made to an existing process or activity.
  • When existing or potential hazards are newly identified.

How to Perform a Risk Assessment

Risk assessments should be completed by safety professionals who have good working knowledge of the situation being studied. They should also be reviewed by individuals who work directly with the process or activity. Here are the standard steps for a risk assessment-

  1. In the risk assessment you should identify and list all the hazards associated with the process or activity.
  2. Determine the likelihood of harm occurring for these risks as well as the severity of the harm it would cause. Consider normal operations as well as unlikely events such as severe weather or power outages. Review all existing knowledge about the hazard and SDS associated with it. Consider any legal requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA, and others that you must comply with.
  3. Identify actions needed to eliminate the hazard or control the risk using the hierarchy of risk control methods.
  4. Confirm the hazard has been eliminated or effectively controlled.
  5. Train employees and supervisors on the changes.
  6. Continue to monitor for effectiveness.
  7. Document the process used to assess risk, evaluations that took place, conclusions that were made, and any approvals that took place.

View our Risk Assessment Template.

How to Prioritize Risks

It is important to understand which risk is the most serious and thus which one should be controlled first. Priority is usually established based on the amount of exposure to the risk or potential risk and the potential for consequences. The simplest way to determine this is by assigning numerical values to the amount of exposure that takes place and the potential for consequences and multiply those numbers. By assigning numerical priority to risks you are effectively creating an action item list based on highest level of risk. You can take this multiple steps further, by including factors such as existing control methods, which is highly recommended. It is important to prioritize existing risks over potential risks to get the most out of the risk assessment process.

What is the Hierarchy of Controls?

Hazard control methods are grouped by safety professionals into the following four categories and employers should always select controls that are the most feasible, effective, and permanent. For risk assessment purposes, these are the levels of the hierarchy of controls-

  1. Hierarchy of controls for risk assessment purposesElimination- Eliminating the hazard completely by physically removing it.
  2. Substitution- Replace the hazard with a new option that is less likely to cause harm.
  3. Engineered controls- These controls isolate people from the hazard. Items like machine guards fall into this category.
  4. Administrative controls- These control measures change the way people work with new policies or training to decrease the amount of exposure they have.
  5. Personal protective equipment or PPE- PPE protects the worker with items like gloves or face shields to reduce the likelihood that the hazard will cause physical harm.

The goal with these control measures is to eliminate or control all serious hazards especially those that are likely to cause death or physical harm. If you cannot remove or control them long term, use interim solutions while you develop long term solutions. Always try to work your way from option one to five as they are most effective starting at the top. Avoid selecting controls that may introduce new hazards to the workplace.

What Documentation Should Be completed for Risk Assessments?

It is extremely important to keep records of your risk assessments and all controls put in place. For some companies it is a legal requirement, but for any company the records could protect you from fines and legal issues in the future.

Keep any records associated with the risk assessment that show your:

  • Hazard review process
  • The risk evaluations that took place
  • Any risk control that was implemented
  • Any further monitoring that took place before, during, and after.

How to Simplify Risk Assessments

The risk assessment process can be daunting as it requires a large amount of measurement, management, and tracking. The best way to decrease the workload and ensure you have the most effective assessment possible is to use a risk assessment program. The BasicSafe Risk Assessment tool gives you everything you need to identify, manage, track, and store everything associated with your risk assessment process. It also includes the tools you need to prioritize your risks and potential risks, complete actions associated with them, and schedule reviews. To learn more about our risk assessment software just click the link below!

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