Four Steps of Successful Risk Assessment

Four Steps of Successful Risk Assessment

The risk assessment exercise for any activity is the key link to ensuring that we comply with legislation for safety at work. Written evidence, where appropriate, is the key factor in ensuring that there is a consistency of high standard across the departments and that all staff and students are aware of, and respond correctly to potential hazards.

The steps required to complete a risk assessment process are usually considered in the context of dangerous chemicals, radioactivity, or fieldwork, and the penalties can be severe if we ignore the need for risk assessment in such circumstances. However, you should be familiar enough with the step-by-step process to apply it, at least as a mental checklist in any laboratory situation to ensure that you do not expose yourself and those around you to unnecessary risks.

 1.  Identify all hazards and gather other information relevant to the task.

the nature of substances: much useful information will be given on the packaging of substances and will normally be accompanied by the manufacturer's or supplier's Material Safety Data Sheet.
the environment of the activity: such as water, gas, electricity or other heat source, a combining of substances
how they are hazardous: consider each substance in turn and decide by what route(s) it could cause harm.

Note :-

  • that the same substance in a different form could have a significantly modified potential to cause harm.
  • equipment with fast moving parts or electrical current are considered for the purpose of risk assessment as "substances" or components of the activity with their own inherent risks.

 2. Assess the risk from the activity and possible inter-reaction of substances

For each route of potential entry

  •  inhaled
  • swallowed/ingested
  • absorbed via skin (borken or intact) or eyes
  • injected (eg, directly or by contaminated sharps) ,

find out what sort of harm could result:-

  • could serious health effects, either immediate or delayed, result from a single exposure?
  • could adverse effects or death result from repeated, even low-level exposures over a period of time?
  • could there be both long-term and short-term effects? 
  •  could the substance cause sensitisation or allergic reaction?
  • could the substance be harmful to human reproduction or cause cancer?
  •  in the case of biological agents, could they cause infection?
  • can mixtures of substances result in enhanced harmful effects?

Who could be affected: within the proximity of the activity, there may be academic and technical staff and undergraduate and postgraduate students, with differing levels of experience of the environment, and who additionally, may be working on substances not compatible with those of your own activity. There may also be cleaning staff, maintenance workers or office staff. Remember that the point of assessment is not to prevent any activity, but to identify real solutions that work in practice in relation to the risks in individual work places.

 3. Institute control measures relevant to the way the substances have the potential to cause harm.

Having found out what health hazards are present in the workplace, the assessor must decide what needs to be done so that the health of individuals is not harmed. There may well already be good controls in place; this is the opportunity to test whether they remain adequate or if more needs to be done.

Unacceptable risks to health exist if exposure is known, or found to be:-

  • occurring in situations where it is 'reasonably practicable' for it to be prevented
  •  inadequately controlled

This form of words may be interpreted as requiring a conscious effort to replace more hazardous substances with less- or non-hazardous equivalents. Only after that option has been examined and found not to be reasonably practicable, may the successive options be pursued. The control measures for non-carcinogens will usually be a combination of the following hierarchy of measures:

  •  totally enclosed process and handling
  • partially enclosed with local exhaust ventilation 
  •  local exhaust ventilation
  • training of staff
  • systems of work which minimise the likelihood of exposure 
  •  minimisation of the number of exposed personnel
  • restricted access to authorised persons only
  • reduction of the period of exposure
  • cleaning and disinfection procedures
  • safe storage and disposal 
  •  welfare and personal hygiene provision 
  •  see also safety guidelines applicable to all laboratories

Measures of control should also include the provision for emergencies, such as spillage kits, emergency personal protective equipment and first aid supplies appropriate to the nature of the work. In the case of emergency, anyone not concerned with the emergency action should leave the area.

 4. Plan how to monitor the control measures to see they are in place and are effective

The responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness of control measures should be clearly assigned within a laboratory, and includes periodic checks of apparatus, e.g., fume cupboards, portable electrical appliances, microbiological safety cabinets, and ensuring that personal protective equipment is being correctly used. If there is any doubt regarding the allocation of this responsibility, the matter should be discussed with the divisional safety officer. It is the responsibility of all staff involved in hazardous activities to

  •  use the control measures provided
  • understand the limitations of the controls (if any)
  • use the personal protective equipment in a proper and prescribed manner
  • practice a high standard of personal hygiene
  • promptly report any defects
  • practice
  • preventative maintenance
  • ensure that protective equipment is serviced regularly by a competent person or qualified engineer.