The golden rules of risk assessment

AT ITS worst, the risk assessment is a bureaucratic time-waster that does nothing to make workplaces safer. On the other hand, following five golden rules mean risk assessments can be both functional and lifesaving.

AT ITS worst, the risk assessment is a bureaucratic time-waster that does nothing to make workplaces safer. On the other hand, following five golden rules mean risk assessments can be both functional and lifesaving.

Golden rule 1: Consequences and likelihood

Combining the severity of outcome and probability of occurrence (or consequences and likelihood), estimates risk.

Although only two variables are involved, they can be incredibly difficult to measure and, even before we consider risk, we must look for the hazards that generate them. Hazards and risks are different.

As a crude example, a bomb is considered a significant hazard but it presents no risk if it explodes in an uninhabited area.

That is, the probability of bodily harm is zero although the severity could be high.

There are many tools available to assess the risk of those hazards, most with highly subjective outcomes.

In other words, the estimate of the level of risk varies greatly from person to person.

To keep the risk assessment as objective as possible, involve a team that includes the machine operator, technical people making the modifications (such as the engineers and electricians), OH&S representative, and the workplace supervisor.

Golden rule 2: Keep the report action-focussed

All too often, risk assessors spend days looking at a plant and its equipment before presenting complex reports that are difficult to read and do not propose a compliant solution (or any solution) to the hapless company.

They determine that a particular hazard is a high or moderate risk, or has a risk score of 100 or 500 but what is the recipient of this risk estimate to do? Hand it over to the technical people with the task to fix it.

What has this told the technical people about the solution? Absolutely nothing!

Golden rule 3: Make sure it complies

Complying with all legislative requirements and the relevant standards (AS 4024.1-2006 for plant and machinery) is essential — from a corporate liability standpoint and because they actually point to best practice — but is often far from straightforward.

The ‘hierarchy of controls’ mandates that risk needs to be minimised by design and engineering before relying on human behaviour, administrative controls and the use of personal protective equipment.

In practice, this can be quite technically complex and requires input from both safety professionals and technical experts.

Golden rule 4: Dont forget to assess the solution

Don’t assume the job is done once the hazards have been identified, risks assessed and controls are in place.

Each control needs to be assessed to check whether the situation is now safe (so far as is reasonably practicable), or whether another step is necessary.

Golden rule 5: Does it work in the real world?

If the risk assessment is done without considering the impacts on productivity and workflow, even the ‘safest’ control can be ineffective. Operators who have safety controls thrust upon them that make their jobs difficult may well simply bypass them.

The bottom line

At present, not one training curriculum for the people who generally have the responsibility to minimise risk by design — the electrical and mechanical engineers, the electricians and technicians — explains the five golden rules of risk assessment.

Those rules point a basic truth: that the risk assessment is really just a means to an end. Its purpose is to arrive at a solution that minimises risk by design, enhances productivity and provide motivation to ‘get around it’.

* Frank Schrever has 30 years experience in the instrumentation and automation markets and established Pilz Safe Automation. He also sits on the AS 4024-1 Safety of Machinery review committee (SF041).

Pilz Safe Automation 03 9544 6300.