Hazard and Risk Assessments
In order to improve the safety of workers on a job site, you need to look at the hazards that exist. Hazard and risk assessments are the tools that allow you to do this important work. By breaking all jobs down into their various component tasks, examining what could cause an incident to occur, and determining what can be done to prevent an injury, assessments allow a company to prove due diligence and plan for the dangers of a job site. This week, we will look at the differences between hazard and risk assessments.
I divide hazard assessments into two categories: the job or position hazard assessment and the site hazard assessment. A position hazard assessment looks at the work that all employees at the company do as part of their job, regardless of the jobsite. This type of hazard assessment would be in the company’s safety manual. The site hazard assessment is completed at the site where the company is working and will look at the conditions of the site itself and the work the company is doing. It can further be divided into the pre-job hazard assessment, which in construction is required by most general contractors, and a daily hazard assessment, which allows employees to look at the areas they are working in that day.
What all hazard assessments have in common is that they will break the jobs down into the steps or tasks that have to be done and then list the hazards. The hazards in turn will be ranked based on the severity of an incident involving the hazard. Controls are then created to reduce the hazard. For example, an electrician would have to install a light. The hazards would be working with electricity. The control is using lock out tag out to shut off the power on that section and show to other workers that they should turn on the power.
Where a site hazard assessment (either pre-job or daily) will differ is that it will include anything that exists at the job site that may increase or add a hazard. For instance, a site may have heavy equipment on it which will affect the worker when they are walking around the site. The controls would be to wear reflective clothing and make eye contact with operators before they walk near the equipment.
The hazards are ranked, based on how serious an incident can occur. The most severe hazards are to dealt with as soon as possible, while hazard that are not as severe can be dealt with later. A fall hazard should be dealt with before a protruding nail, since it is more severe.
While a hazard assessment looks at the hazards on a site, a risk assessment will look at the chance that an incident based on the hazard will occur. Risk assessments add this extra bit to a site hazard assessment. The best example of looking at risk is crossing the street. The main hazard when crossing the street is being hit by a vehicle. The risk however may vary. You have a higher risk of being hit by a car on a busy city street than on a road in a rural area.
Risk assessments require a matrix to be used in order to determine the ranking of a hazard. One axis will rank the hazard from insignificant to severe. The other axis will rank the likelihood, from rare to almost certain. By doing this, you can get a more accurate picture on which hazards will need to have controls. A task may have a minor consequences, but there is an almost certain chance that it will happen. That means it would be ranked as high and has to be dealt with in 24 hours.
The only argument I would have against calculating risk is that when measuring the likelihood, it can become too subjective. Hazards are easy to identify (you work from heights, you can fall) but to factor in risk, you need to look at the industry and even past history at the site. Again, determining the controls is the goal a hazard assessment.
By looking at the hazards and controlling them, a safety professional or site supervisor can reduce or even eliminate the chances of a worker being injured. Hazard and risk assessments are an important part of the safety planning process and all staff at a site should be involved with the process, as well as be told what hazards exist. Safety is about knowing and controlling and assessments allow this to be done.