To effectively create a workplace health and safety program, you first need to understand the safety risks that exist in your workplace.
A risk assessment includes:
- Identifying hazards and risk factors
- Analyzing and evaluating those risks
- Determining how to mitigate potential hazards
It requires taking a comprehensive look at your workplace to identify the situations, objects, and processes that may harm someone. After the risks are identified, you’ll evaluate the likelihood of mishap, and how severe the outcome would be. Next, develop a plan of action—starting with risks most likely to happen. For example, the probability that someone trips and sprains an ankle on a cord is higher than the chance that lightning strikes your building and fries your computer servers.
The goal of risk assessment is primarily to gather knowledge. During the assessment process you’ll ask:
- Is there any potential risk here?
- What are the possible consequences of this event?
- How likely is this to happen?
- What can I do to stop this from happening?
You can gather information about the risks to workers from a variety of sources, including:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website and publications
- Current safety programs (lockout/tag out, personal protective equipment, etc.)
- Health and safety consultants
- Illness and injury trends
- Industry trade associations
- Input from workers, including surveys or minutes from safety committee meetings
- Inspection reports from insurance carriers, governmental agencies, and consultants
- Labor unions
- Material Safety Data Sheets provided by chemical manufacturers
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s website and publications
- Operating manuals for your equipment
- Occupational Safety and Health Association’s website and publications
- Records of previous injuries and illnesses
- Results of past job hazard assessments
- State and local occupational safety and health organizations
- Worker advocacy groups
- Workers’ compensation records
Create a checklist to ensure every aspect of your business is included in the assessment. Here are some categories to consider:
- Slip, trip, and fall hazards
- Electrical hazards
- Equipment operation and maintenance
- Fire protection
- Workflow and processes (including staffing and scheduling)
- Workplace violence
- Psychosocial hazards (excessive workload, working with high-need clients, bullying)
- Chemical hazards (asbestos, cleaning fluids, aerosols)
- Biological hazards (particularly important for health-related businesses)
- Ergonomic problems (lifting, awkward postures)
- Emergency procedures
- General housekeeping
Next, take a careful look at your workplace to:
- Conduct regular inspections of all operations, equipment, work areas, and facilities, including facility and equipment maintenance, storage and warehousing, purchasing, and offices.
- Engage workers in the inspection process and empower them to talk about the hazards that they’ve noticed.
- Document each inspection so you can go back and ensure each hazard has been corrected.
- Take photos or videos of problem areas to prompt brainstorming sessions about how to fix them or to use as examples of what not to do.
- Inspect all vehicles, including forklifts, industrial trucks, and company cars.
- Assess the activities of onsite contractors, subcontractors, and temporary employees during this process as well.
Of course, before making any major changes and announcing new safety training, you should talk with your management team and employees to evaluate how your proposed changes will impact their work. Sometimes one change can cause another issue along the workflow—so keep an eye out.
It’s important to note that even after implementing risk management precautions, a certain level of risk may remain. Keep also in mind that because new workplace hazards may be introduced over time, you’ll need to reassess your company’s risk periodically.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.