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How to assess health and safety risks

Keeping everyone healthy and safe at work doesn’t necessarily mean buying expensive equipment and lots of paperwork. It does mean taking a proactive approach and getting everyone at work involved.

Get your H&S sorted by following this step-by-step approach to assessing risk.

1. Look for risks

Together with your staff, look for risks caused by your work. This includes obvious things like unsafe machinery, and less obvious issues that might affect people's health, eg:

  • stress
  • poor air quality 
  • fatigue.

Personal or family matters, including family violence, may also threaten the safety and productivity of your workplace. The It's not OK (external link) website provides information on how your workplace can play a role in preventing family violence and create workplace safety plans for employees experiencing family violence. It also has tips for employers and managers.

Involving staff is an important way to help identify and manage risk.

Worker engagement and participation 

A strong health and safety record could lead to  reduced insurance and ACC payments.

A strong health and safety record could lead to reduced insurance and ACC payments.

2. Assess the risks

With your staff, consider how much harm these risks pose and the likelihood of them happening. Apart from just the possible risk to people who work for you, you should also be thinking about who else might be affected, eg visitors, customers, contractors and neighbouring businesses.

casestudy BreakItDown

Case study

Break it down

Kristy leases spaces within a primary school to run a canteen. She is sole owner, but hires two part-time staff to help her out.

One day her industrial dishwasher breaks and she needs to call in a repairman. As part of her contractual arrangement with the school, Kristy has a responsibility to work with the facilities manager. So, before booking a technician, she calls the facilities manager to check if there are any special arrangements she has to make. 

He asks Kristy to let him know when the technician is arriving, so he can meet him at the school office and escort him to the canteen.

Kristy also checks with the technician to ask if he can visit outside school hours. As there is no other work going on in the building, and the pupils will have left by then, there is nothing extra Kristy needs to do. He thanks Kristy for letting him know and helping to co-ordinate.

 

3. Prioritise identified risks

Remember, the more potential for harm, the more significant the risk.

For example, having systems for storing and using chemicals the right way is more important than, say, focusing on safe lifting of items that are very light.

Note: H&S is ongoing. Just because you'll start with the most serious risks, it doesn't mean you shouldn't get around to dealing with the less serious ones later on. You'll also want to keep an eye out for occupational health issues, eg:

  • harassment
  • uncomfortably hot or cold temperatures
  • excessive workloads.

4. Study the risks

Think about what you and your staff know — or should know — about the identified risks. This may also involve talking to people in the same line of work as you, sector bodies like Registered Master Builders and Federated
Farmers, or WorkSafe.

Note: WorkSafe has specific guidelines on a number of identified risks. Some examples include:

  • working on roofs 
  • riding quad bikes 
  • industrial rope access.

For these types of work activities, specific practices should be followed.

If you can't afford decent protection methods for a particular work activity, you shouldn't be doing that activity in the first place.

If you can't afford decent protection methods for a particular work activity, you shouldn't be doing that activity in the first place.

5. Consider your options

Talk with your staff about the ways you could get rid of the risk. If it's impossible to get rid of it together, you need to think about how you could minimise it. For example, it might be impossible to get rid of a loud noise altogether. However, you could possibly minimise its effect by relocating noisy equipment or using high-grade ear protection or a different tool.

When working out what you're going to do, think about:

  • how bad the harm could be
  • different ways it could be avoided or controlled
  • the suitability of the protection 
  • the cost.

Dealing with the risk could be anything from buying new equipment, changing your work methods or simply having a chat with staff. Basically, you're expected to do what anyone in your situation would be expected to do. It's about taking responsibility for what you can control. Your H&S culture and decision-making processes are far more important than any paper documentation you've got sitting around.

Put your solutions to work and get your staff involved.

casestudy gardener

Case study

Noise control

Paul runs a landscape gardening company.  On one job he has to remove a concrete path, while his worker, Joe, builds a fence. It'll be a very noisy worksite if both the jackhammer and skillsaw are used at the same time. 

Paul and Joe discuss their options to minimise the noise levels. They decide not to do both jobs at the same time.

They also check the client's windows are shut so the noise won't be too loud inside the house. Both workers wear ear protectors, protective eyewear and appropriate footwear.

casestudySlipperyWhenWet

Case study

Slippery when wet

Sammi owns a flower warehouse and the floor is regularly wet. It could be relatively easy to slip on the floor and both she and her staff identify this risk. As she and her staff see it, there are three ways to deal with the wet floor. 

They could:

  1. Install and maintain a non-slip surface on the floor. 
  2. Fence off the area. 
  3. Give everyone who comes in to the warehouse non-slip tread boots.

Sammi and her workers decide it's reasonable to choose the first option because people will still be able to easily walk around. It will also be a hassle for everyone to change their footwear.

What is 'reasonably practicable'?

Do you feel more confident about managing your health and safety obligations after reading this information?

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