The Importance of a Health Risk Assessment
Ensuring workers are protected from work-related injuries and illness offers many benefits. A health risk assessment can help staff and employers enjoy them. When visiting a factory, it is not unusual to encounter a sign boasting that the company has had no accidents for a given number of days. While this is commendable, it also underlines the risks inherent in many workplaces.
However, displaying a sign indicating the number of work days lost due to absenteeism might be more informative. In practice, illnesses are responsible for more absences than accidents. While seasonal colds and flu account for many of these, some are work-related and potentially far more serious.
Under the terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers in South Africa are mandated to take whatever steps may be necessary to minimise the risk of work-related injuries and illness. The task can be challenging, so companies would be well advised to seek help from an occupational hygiene specialist to ensure compliance with current legislation.
What does a safety risk assessment involve?
The assessment is a three-step process that, following initial discussions with managers and staff to gain some background, begins with a detailed inspection of a company’s workplace. This first step in the health and safety risk assessment aims to identify anything that might be considered a potential hazard to an employee’s well-being. In most cases, the search will focus on three main areas.
- Physical hazards: For example, exposed electrical wiring, slippery walking surfaces, the absence of guardrails on dangerous machinery like circular saws, extremes of temperature or excessive levels of ambient noise.
- Chemical hazards: These might include gases like ammonia, chlorine or carbon dioxide but could also be suspended particles in the atmosphere like coal dust or asbestos fibres. The search will also cover liquids such as strong acids and volatile organic solvents.
- Biological hazards: In a microbiology lab, these are inherent but must be adequately contained, whereas, in food outlets and processing plants, they must be eliminated. Legionella in the water or air supply is often the focus of an inspection.
Once all hazards have been identified, they must be assessed to determine whether they pose a risk to employees. This step may require accurate monitoring and quantitative analysis. If, for example, the atmospheric concentration of a given chemical is within accepted workplace exposure limits, no immediate action will be necessary, but ongoing monitoring is advisable.
Acting on the findings of a health risk assessment
Once it has been determined that a given hazard might pose a genuine threat to the safety or health of workers, visitors to the workplace or the surrounding environment, the inspector’s role becomes an advisory one. Occupational hygienists will call upon their training and previous experience in similar situations to advise management and staff about how best to eliminate or minimise the risk posed by any significant hazards, conducting follow-up inspections at intervals to assess progress and suggest improvements where indicated.
Arranging a health risk assessment
IOH Solutions is certified by the Department of Labour and Employment to conduct your health and safety risk assessment. Why not get in touch so we can discuss how to protect your staff and maintain peak productivity?