Employers are required by law to put adequate measures in place to protect their employees and others from harm. While this legal clause is abundantly clear, what may be unclear to many employers is what measures they need to put in place to comply with this requirement.
As a guideline, the Health and Safety Executive has put together a step-by-step process to help employers minimise the health and safety risks in their workplace. This process outlines 5 main steps that employers should follow to control potential hazards and can be applied to all types of workplaces.
Step 1 – Identify Potential Hazards
Every workplace has its own unique set of risks that necessitates unique protective measures. Cookie-cutter solutions cannot work under these circumstances. Identifying potential hazards in your workplace is an absolutely essential first step to controlling the risks. This involves:
- Conducting a thorough workplace inspection – Walk around the workplace and consider aspects such as the machinery, chemicals, and other equipment that’s being used. Take a closer look at the work processes and the general layout of the premises.
- Getting input from your employees – Only those who are personally involved in a process can truly recognise the day-to-day risks they encounter. Many of these may not be as obvious to employers. Encourage employees to provide input on potential hazards in their work areas.
- Reviewing records – Examining past incident reports, near misses, and injury records can help you identify recurring or previously unrecognised hazards with regard to routine as well as non-routine operations.
When identifying risks, don’t overlook long-term hazards. For example, exposure to high noise levels may not cause immediate injury but if ignored, it can result in hearing loss. It is a workplace risk that can and should be controlled.
Step 2 – Consider Who May Be Harmed And How
All hazards do not pose the same degree of risk to all workers. For example, only loaders or shelf stackers may be at high risk of lower back injury. This particular hazard may not apply to other employees. Also, people with disabilities, expectant mothers, and young workers may be at higher risk while carrying out a particular job and may have special requirements to stay safe while working.
Considering who may be harmed and how will give you a clearer idea of what you need to do to minimise the risk. The loader or shelf stacker will generally need a different type of protection than a disabled or pregnant employee.
Don’t forget to assess potential hazards faced by cleaners, maintenance workers, contractors and visitors who may not be present on the premises throughout the work day.
Step 3 – Determine What Control Measures Are Needed
You’ve identified the risks and determined who may be harmed and how. Your next step is to determine what control measures you need to put in place to keep your workers and visitors safe.
Start by assessing the measures you already have in place. What risks do they address? Are there any other hazards that you’ve identified that don’t have any safeguards in place?
In determining what control measures you need to implement, go through each hazard you’ve identified and for each hazard on the list ask yourself these questions.
- Is there a way to eliminate the risk completely? If there is, implement the solution right away.
- If the risk cannot be eliminated completely, what can be done to minimise the risk?
Depending on the type of hazard, this may involve issuing personal protective equipment to relevant employees, switching to a less toxic chemical, or reorganising the premises to prevent accidental exposure to a hazard. Placing warning signs that are easily visible can prevent many workplace accidents.
Putting protective measures in place may seem like an expensive proposition but the alternative can be much more expensive. If an accident does happen, you’ll have to deal with an injured worker, mounting medical bills, diminished morale and productivity, and a potential workplace injury claim.
Step 4 – Implement Control Measures Immediately
Procrastinating can be just as expensive as ignoring safety measures completely. It doesn’t take long for an accident to happen. With that in mind, it’s important to implement your safeguards to prevent workplace accidents as quickly as possible, such as:
- Removing whatever hazards can be eliminated and minimising the risks of those that cannot be eliminated.
- Implement engineering controls such as machine guarding.
- Issue appropriate personal protective equipment to relevant personnel.
- Ensure proper ventilation to minimise exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Establish clear and detailed safety procedures that employees should follow. Ensure employees are trained on these procedures.
- Implement a schedule for inspecting and maintaining control measures to ensure they remain effective.
Step 5 – Record, Monitor, Review All Hazards And Safety Measures
Recording, monitoring, and reviewing the hazards identified and the safety measures put in place helps you stay on top of things.
A record of the hazards and appropriate precautionary measures acts as a reference for future assessments. It can be particularly useful in case an employee does have an accident while at work. Having a proper record can help to establish whether or not you could be held liable.
Monitoring the workplace continuously is important to recognise changes in the severity level of existing risks as well as to identify new hazards that may have developed. Regular inspections must be conducted by specialised personnel who are experts in this particular area.
Encouraging employees to report hazards, incidents and even near-misses promptly is key to maintaining a safe workplace. Investigating and addressing all reported issues is key to preventing future occurrences.
Putting safety measures in place is not a one-and-done exercise. Conducting periodic reviews of the risk assessment is important. This should be done at least once a year at the minimum, or whenever significant changes occur in the workplace.
The annual inspection and review should follow the first four steps – identify potential hazards, determine who could be harmed and how, determine what control measures are needed, and implement updated safety measures immediately. These risk assessment steps can help employers systematically identify, assess, and manage risks in the workplace, fostering a safer and healthier environment for all employees and visitors to the workplace premises.