OH&S Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment – OHSAS 18001

OHSAS 18001 continues to gain popularity with organizations as an easy plug-in to their existing business management system.

ISO 14001 is to environmental management what OHSAS 18001 is to workplace employee health and Safety. OHSAS 18001 is a model that organizations can use to establish or enhance a continual improvement-based employee health and safety program or management system. An OHSAS 18001 Management System (OHSMS) can be readily integrated with other management systems, including ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

The identification of workplace hazards and associated risks is a key element of OHSAS 18001 (Clause 4.3.1). Hazard identification is the process of identifying what could go wrong and possibly harm someone. Risk assessment is a multi-dimensional semi-quantitative evaluation of the potential likelihood of a hazard actually occurring and the potential consequences if a hazard should occur. Once the level of risk for a particular hazard has been quantified through the risk assessment process, that level of risk can be evaluated by the organization for “acceptability.” Acceptability is a subjective measure of how safe is safe enough and should be determined with the input and approval of the organization’s top management.

An example of a risk assessment might be making a comparison between the hazard of using a hand saw to cut a piece of wood and the hazard of using an unguarded table saw. Let’s assume that the hazard in question is the potential to seriously cut oneself while cutting a piece of wood. We know through experience that using a hand saw is not likely to cause a serious injury requiring substantial medical attention. The risk of serious injury is relatively low, and most would deem that risk tolerable or acceptable as is. Using an unguarded table saw, on the other hand, could result in a serious cut or even an amputation, which in some cases may be life threatening. The risk of using an unguarded table saw is therefore unacceptably high. In order to control the risk of amputation to a “tolerable” or “acceptable” level, the saw would have to be properly guarded, and all operators would need to be trained in the safe use of a table saw. The guarding and the training are referred to as operational controls. Although the hazard of a serious cut still remains, the operational controls contain the risk (the likelihood and consequences) to a tolerable level.

The task of performing an OHSAS 18001 hazard identification and risk assessment would be easy if there were only a few hazards present in the workplace. Unfortunately, most workplaces have hundreds of hazards that require evaluation. Consequently, organizations seeking to improve their OH&S performance need to find a way to prioritize these hazards so that they can address the highest risks first.

Such a numeric evaluation is similar to a Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), which is used by quality managers to prioritize potential risk to product quality. The OHSAS risk assessment process can be used to prioritize potential health and safety risks and help organizations decide what needs to be done first to get the most risk reduction as quickly as possible. These risk assessments can be tailored to each organization’s situation and risk tolerance threshold.

There is no one right way to perform hazard identification and risk assessment. However, if not performed with skill and competence, the results of the OHSAS risk assessment will dramatically affect the performance of the employee health and safety program or management system. In other words, the program or management system is only as good as the hazard identification and risk assessment process.

Following are some key points to remember:

  • Develop a documented procedure for hazard identification and risk assessment.
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak the procedure if it is not producing reasonable results.
  • Involve in the assessments those who are exposed to possible hazards.
  • Engage management to determine the risk tolerance threshold the organization wants to achieve.

What are your experiences with hazard identification and risk assessment? Let us know by placing a comment here.

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