The best way to prevent injuries or illness in your workplace is to find the hazards that could cause injury or illness, and fix them. Do this by following four simple steps:
Spot the Hazard
Assess the Risk
Fix the Problem
This process is often called risk assessment.
Involve your workers
The workers using the equipment or chemicals, performing the tasks and being in the work environment every day are essential to help you identify hazards.
Don’t underestimate your workers’ input: they often have first-hand knowledge, experience and ideas about how to reduce safety risks, make improvements and find solutions.
When introducing any changes, make sure everyone knows what’s being done and how you are controlling the hazards. Involving your workers in these ways reinforces the idea that safety is everyone’s responsibility, and ensures you meet your requirements to consult with your workforce.
Spot the hazard
A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause injury, illness or damage to your health. Hazards at work may include:
- manual tasks
- untidy workplaces
- bullying and violence
- working at heights
- faulty or unguarded machinery
- poor work design (for example, tasks involving repetitive movements)
- inadequate management systems (for example, no procedures for performing tasks safely or for using personal protective equipment).
The first step in ensuring a safe workplace is to identify hazards. There are a number of ways to find hazards in your workplace:
- ask workers and contractors in your workplace about any hazards they may have noticed
- look at the physical structure of your workplace: for example, stairs, desks, floor surfaces, exits, driveways
- check all machinery, appliances and vehicles used for work
- examine how substances are stored, used and moved from one place to another
- review your injury records, including ‘near misses’
- review information from designers, manufacturers or suppliers of the equipment and substances in your workplace.
Use a checklist
A checklist can help you examine your work environment, the tasks your workers do, and the machinery/equipment used in your workplace.
You can use a checklists for regular/ frequent tasks; for example, a maintenance checklist or a daily pre-start checklist for equipment to make sure it’s in safe working order.
See Resources below for samples. Print them off, grab a pen and do a walkabout, talking to the workers involved in the environment, task or equipment you’re checking.
Assess the risk
A risk is the likelihood of a hazard causing injury, illness or damage to your health.
Your list of hazards may be long, with some hazards posing more safety risks than others.
So you need to work out which hazards are more serious than other and deal with those first.
To assess the risk associated with each hazard, ask these questions:
What is the potential impact of the hazard?
- How severe could an injury or illness be?
- What's the worst possible damage the hazard could cause to someone’s health?
- Would it require simple first aid only? Or cause permanent ill health or disability? Or could it kill?
How likely is the hazard to cause someone harm?
- Could it happen at any time or would it be a rare event?
- How often are workers exposed to the hazard?
You should also consider how many people are exposed to the hazards, and remember that everyone is different. A hazard may pose more risk to some people than others because of differences in physical strength, experience and training.
Fix the problem
You should always aim to remove a hazard completely from your workplace. Where this isn’t practical, you should work through the other alternatives systematically.
Some problems may be fixed easily and straight away, while others will need more effort and planning. Concentrate on the most urgent hazards without neglecting the simpler ones that could be easily and immediately fixed.
Some solutions are more effective than others. Make sure your solution does not introduce new hazards.
Hierarchy of controls
Use the hierarchy of controls to remove or reduce risk in your workplace. It starts with the most effective control method (removing the hazard from your workplace completely) and finishes with the least effective (wearing personal protective equipment/PPE).
You must use the highest-ranked control that is practical for controlling the risk. Only use lower-ranked controls as a last resort or until a more effective way of controlling risk can be used.
Sometimes using more than one control measure could be the most effective way to reduce the exposure to hazards.
1 Eliminate the hazard
Remove it completely from your workplace. For example: repair damaged equipment; outsource processes involving hazardous chemicals or equipment to a company set up to manage them safely. If this is not practical, then…
2 Substitute the hazard
Replace it with a safer alternative. For example: use a less toxic chemical; lift smaller packages. If this is not practical, then…
3 Isolate the hazard
Keep it away from workers as much as possible. For example: relocate photocopiers to separate, ventilated rooms; install barriers to restrict access to hazardous work areas. If this is not practical, then…
4 Use engineering controls
Adapt tools or equipment to reduce the risk. For example: place guards on dangerous parts of machinery; use a trolley for moving heavy loads. If this is not practical, then…
5 Use administrative controls
Change work practices and organisation. For example, rotate jobs to reduce the time spent on any single work task; train staff in safe work procedures; carry out routine maintenance of equipment. If this is not practical, then…
6 Use personal protective equipment (PPE)
For example: use hearing/eye protection equipment, hard hats, gloves and masks; train staff to use PPE correctly.
After you think you’ve fixed the problem, find out whether the changes have been effective. Get feedback from those affected by the changes and include them in any modifications to their workplace or work routines. Look at your incident records to see if numbers are going down.
Make sure your solution does not introduce new hazards. Maybe you and your workers can even see more ways to make further improvements. Set a date to re-assess the risk. Choose a timeframe appropriate to the task and the risk involved. If the work process changes, or new equipment is introduced to a task, then the risk assessment must be reviewed.
During each of these four steps, employers, managers, contractors and workers need to communicate with each other and work together.
Hazard management is not a one-off event — it’s an ongoing process.