Health Risk Assessment | Workplace Hazards

A Health Risk Assessment Can Provide Employers With Vital Insight


The Occupational Health and Safety Act states employers must protect their staff from workplace hazards. A health risk assessment can be of great help. Millions of workers worldwide are exposed to potentially harmful conditions daily, yet staff and employers are often entirely unaware of these risks. The first signs that something might be wrong are very often an unusually high incidence of a particular type of accident or illness other than seasonal colds and flu, leading someone to suspect that these unfortunate incidents might be work-related.


In practice, most working environments contain potential hazards, and while some may represent little or no danger to company personnel or visitors, others can have severe or even fatal consequences. Miners and construction workers are unlikely to forget the risk of pneumoconiosis and silicosis, debilitating pulmonary diseases caused by inhaling airborne dust particles.


Fortunately, the Act also led to the creation of a new profession. An occupational or industrial hygienist is trained to perform studies of a company’s working environment to identify potential hazards, evaluate the risks they may pose, and suggest practical ways to protect exposed personnel where appropriate.


The Steps in a Health Risk Assessment


Rendering the working environment safe for employees begins with an in-depth workplace inspection, a five-step process in which the first is:

  • Health Risk Assessment

    Hazard detection: In most cases, the inspection focuses on physical, chemical or biological hazards. Common physical issues include exposed electrical wiring, high ambient noise levels, and temperature extremes. Harmful chemicals include the toxic gases chlorine and ammonia. Microorganisms, like Legionella and Salmonella, are among the most frequent biological risks. However, inspectors are often also asked to check for ergonomic anomalies or factors causing mental stress. The search will be based on input from managers and staff and personal experience of similar working environments. Once a potential hazard has been detected, the next step is:


  • Evaluation: Not all hazards are necessarily a threat to workers’ health and safety. For example, there are acceptable exposure levels for many chemicals; if these are not exceeded, no countermeasures are legally required. This phase of the health risk assessment process relies heavily on the occupational hygienist’s skills, knowledge and experience. Once armed with the data gathered during this stage, the third task for the inspector will be:


  • Remediation: The consultant will suggest effective countermeasures to combat any hazard deemed to be a risk. For example, ear defenders to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, using respirators to avoid dust inhalation or suitably safe disinfectants to eliminate risk from Legionella.


However, after completing the health risk assessment, the inspector’s task doesn’t end. In practice, there are two more important steps:


  • Education: A responsible inspector will join with management to ensure staff are fully aware of any risks they are exposed to, the use of appropriate countermeasures and the possible consequences of failing to observe them.


  • Progress checks: Annual re-inspections are a means to ensure recommended countermeasures are in place and effective or whether more work might be required.



IOH Solutions is South Africa’s foremost provider of occupational hygiene services. We are your one-stop shop if you are concerned about employee health and safety. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for help.