Health Risk Assessment | Preventing Workplace Hazards

Keeping Employees Safe With a Health Risk Assessment


Whether employed in an office or engineering works, staff could be exposed to the risk of injury or illness without a professional health risk assessment. The dangers to workers in high-risk occupations like mining, construction or firefighting are plain to see and enable their employers to implement suitable protective measures.


However, in other occupations, the potential hazards to health and safety can be far more subtle and will often remain undetected for years. Such threats often only become apparent when a company’s work-related injuries and illnesses appear unusually high. Unfortunately, despite the alarming statistics, pinpointing the underlying causes is not always possible, especially where these involve work-related illness.


As part of the government’s effort to implement the health and safety regulations entrenched in its 1993 Occupational Health and Safety Act., it established training courses in the techniques required to identify, evaluate and deal proactively with workplace hazards, the key elements of a practical health risk assessment. Thus, in addition to allocating the responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace to employers, the act also made provision for access to professional help with compliance.


The Health Risk Assessment in Action


Health Risk Assessment

Input from managers and staff about the job, difficulties experienced by employees or things they may have noticed can be invaluable, so a thorough health risk assessment should always start with a consultation. Combined with the experience gained in similar organisations, a client’s input provides clues about where to begin the investigation.


In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the potential impact of poor ergonomics that can lead to painful musculoskeletal disorders and the effects of mental stress on employee health and productivity. These elements may form part of a broader assessment programme or be investigated individually. In practice, the types of workplace hazards present vary between occupations, but the categories most often targeted are the following three:


  • Physical hazards: Injuries caused by falls from ladders without handrails or due to slippery surfaces can be life-changing but are wholly preventable. Most employers know these risks and take appropriate steps to minimise them.


However, other potential dangers, like excessive vibration, ambient noise and temperatures or humidity, are more easily overlooked. Occupational hygiene specialists have the skills and equipment to detect, monitor and assess their danger.


  • Hazardous Chemicals: The presence of harmful chemicals in the air or on work surfaces is a fact of life in some industries but can cause debilitating and potentially fatal illnesses if not dealt with. In this instance, the assessor’s task is to identify them and determine if their concentration is within acceptable exposure limits or whether remedial action is necessary.


  • Biological agents: A typical investigation might include collecting swabs from surfaces, clothing and personnel, or air samples for laboratory analysis. Tests may look for evidence of Legionella in any company’s water supply but will focus more on intestinal pathogens, like Salmonella, Listeria and coli when investigating a restaurant or processed food factory.


Need a Specialist to Conduct Your Health Risk Assessment?


IOH Solutions has been helping South African companies comply with national health and safety regulations since 2003. Our occupational hygiene specialists are accredited by the Department of Labour to undertake workplace assessments. So. why not contact us to ensure your business and staff are protected?