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A Typical Occupational Health Risk Assessment

The workplace can be a dangerous place. While the risk faced by workers when operating machinery tends to be well-known and can generally be minimised with a suitable course of training and some simple safety precautions, not all of the possible dangers to the health and safety of those at work are this obvious. For example, asbestos workers were permitted to inhale toxic fibres for many years before the serious consequences of doing so were eventually discovered. To rule out such hazards, the best option is an occupational health risk assessment by a qualified professional.

This involves taking a close look at all the activities that occur in a given workplace. The investigation is designed to focus on tasks and equipment, any potential hazards that these may pose, the people who are exposed to those hazards, and any existing control measures that may be in place to protect them. Such measures might include the training and supervision of workers, regular professional servicing of hazardous equipment, and the use of guard rails and safety barriers.

Based on their findings, those performing the occupational health risk assessment are at liberty to propose any improvements or additional measures that might be necessary in order for an employer to ensure a company’s precautions conform to the recommended standards for health and safety at work.

During the study, risks are placed in one of three categories as determined by their severity and also their likelihood. Severity is rated as minor for possible cuts and grazes, serious where the victim would require time off and major where workers might risk the loss of a limb or their sight or even death. An occupational health risk assessment rates the likelihood of a particular mishap as either low; meaning it is unlikely under normal conditions; as medium where it is possible in special circumstances; or as high if it could occur even under normal working conditions.

All categories carry a rating of one, two, or three, according to their severity or likelihood. Multiplying the figure for severity by that for likelihood arrives at a value termed the risk rating. Values of between one and three are generally regarded as acceptable, but do not rule out further action where possible, while values of four to five require action as soon as possible. Anything rated during an occupational health risk assessment as between six and nine will require immediate remedial action. For all ratings of four or over, an action plan to implement additional controls must be drawn up, a target date for completion set, and an individual appointed to be responsible for ensuring the necessary controls are adopted timeously.

Typically, an assessment will look for potential dangers arising from physical, chemical, and biological sources. Noise, vibration, lighting, and ambient temperature are examples of possible physical dangers, while gasses, suspended fibres, and aerosols present in the air are some of the chemical threats. Among the biological threats investigated when performing an assessment are bacteria that can accumulate in air conditioners and water supplies and the growth of moulds in damp areas.

In South Africa, IOH Solution is a SANAS accredited company that is registered with the Southern African Institute of Occupational Hygiene and is authorised to help you.