After completing your risk evaluation of the health and safety hazards in the workplace you will have to conduct a risk analysis whereby you identify and separate your major risks from your minor risks. A risk analysis would assist you in actioning hazard control measures and ensuring that areas of high risk receive quick and adequate attention in order for you to reduce incidents and accidents in the workplace.
What is risk control?
Risk control is a program of control measures implemented to reduce the risk to health and safety and protect workers in the workplace. Throughout the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act employers and employees are urged to ensure risk control through risk evaluations. A written risk control program should have all the identified hazards listed with methods to be used to control exposure to these dangers.
Selecting an appropriate risk control is not always easy and there is no “one size fits all” solution to reducing health and safety risk. Each risk control needs to be tailor made for individual work areas. What may be a high risk in one industry may not be a high risk in another industry, this may even differ between companies in the same industry!
Who is involved in the risk control process?
Everyone involved in the risk evaluation will be involved in the risk control process. This would include everyone from the CEO who needs to sign of new equipment, training or processes, the Health & Safety Committee who would discuss reports submitted by Health & Safety Representatives as well as any incidents and accidents in the workplace, the Health & Safety Representatives who does their regular inspections to identify risks as well as every single employee who works with or who has ever reported a risk in the workplace!
The Occupational Health & Safety Act 85 of 1993 makes it very clear in Sections 8 and 14 that both the employer and employees have a responsibility in ensuring a safe working environment which is ultimately done through risk control. It is a combined effort which if only implemented from one side will never be successful leaving the workplace as an unsafe environment!
Examples of common health and safety hazards identified in a risk evaluation
Irrespective of which industry you conduct your business in, or if you have a well implemented health and safety risk control program installed in your organization you might still be faced with common hazards:
- Chemical hazards – Chemical hazards include any hazardous chemical that could cause harm. They can cause a range of injuries ranging from skin irritations to cancers and explosions. Ensure that all hazardous chemicals are properly stored as per legal requirements with no unauthorised access to reduce exposures. Employees who have to work with these chemicals must receive the correct Personal Protective Equipment and adequate training.
- Biological hazards – Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, and bacteria which causes harm and conditions like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Respiratory infections like flue and the Coronavirus. These hazards can be spread by poor personal hygiene, vermin, poor ablutions, poor ventilation and exposure to bodily fluids.
- Physical hazards – Physical hazards are often overlooked in the workplace and can cause severe injuries and death if ignored. Examples would include severe noise, extreme heat or cold, slipping and tripping hazards like electrical wires, vibrations, and working at heights.
- Ergonomic hazards – Employers must always remember to develop a job around an employee and not force an employee to fit into a job! An example would be for a very tall person to sit crouched over a very low working station which could lead to injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and musculoskeletal injuries. Invest in tables and chairs which are adaptable or use engineering controls to deal with these hazards.
- Psychological hazards – In South Africa this is a very overlooked topic and it is something that should receive attention. Stress, whether it is private or workplace induced, could lead to severe injuries in the workplace! When an employee’s mind is focused on an unfavourable psychological stress like sexual harassment, he/she will not be paying attention to what they are doing and could easily get themselves entrapped in moving machinery for example.
Types of risk evaluation control measures
When we decide on the correct control measure to implement post your risk evaluation, the general principles of hierarchy should be applied. This includes:
- Eliminate – Eliminating the risk is the preferred method of risk control. In this step one would attempt to remove the risk completely e.g. outsourcing the washing of windows in a high-rise building to a contractor therefore eliminating the risk to your own employees working at heights completely.
- Reduce – If the risk can’t be eliminated then an attempt should be made to reduce the risk. An example of reducing a risk would be to substitute a very corrosive chemical to a less dangerous chemical therefore reducing the risk of injury.
- Isolate – If there is no way of eliminating or reducing the risk then an attempt should be made to isolate the risk. An example would be to enclose a noisy part or enclosing spray painting in a booth to ensure the risk is isolated to a specific area or specific employees.
- Controls – There are different ways to try and control risk if isolation is not possible. Engineering control would involve engineers to redesign something to reduce risk to affected employees. An example would be to introduce safety guards in machinery with moving parts. Administrative controls would involve looking at working procedures and try and control risks through these means e.g. limiting time of exposure to a possible hazard.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – When none of the above is feasible or practically possible then employees must be issued with PPE. After you have finalised your risk evaluation you would be able to identify the types of PPE that would need to be issued. Different hazards would require different PPE and simply issuing gloves, hard hats and goggles is not enough!
- Discipline – Employees must be made aware of risks identified in the risk evaluation and appropriate training should be given to install safe working discipline and a positive health and safety culture! Old worker mentality must be dealt with to ensure risks are reduced in the workplace.