How to report unhealthy or unsafe working conditions
Report unsafe or unhealthy conditions to the Employer or Health and Safety Representative as soon as possible. If employees are involved in an accident that may affect their health or cause an injury, they should report the incident to the employer and authorised person or the Occupational, Health and Safety Representative as soon as possible, but not later than the end of the shift during which the incident occurred. Unless the circumstances were such that the reporting of the incident was not possible in which case the employee must report the incident as soon as is practically possible. Before you report, you need to first know how to identify the risk.
Identifying hazards in the workplace
Once the hazards are identified, work out which group of people may be put at risk and identify how they may be harmed, which type of injury or ill health might occur. Some workers have particular requirements, pregnant women, inexperienced workers, cleaners, visitors.
Now that the risks are identified, it has to be decided how to deal with them. You can do this by risk elimination, segregation, substitution, procedures, training and information and finally providing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Calculation of risk
The calculation of risk is based on the following:
Likelihood or probability of the harm being realised and the severity of the consequences.
This can be expressed mathematically as a quantitative assessment by assigning low, medium and high likelihood and severity with integers and multiplying them to obtain a risk factor, or qualitatively as a description of the circumstances by which the harm could arise.
The assessment should be recorded and reviewed periodically and whenever there is a significant change to work practices.
The assessment should include practical recommendations to control the risk.
Once the recommended controls are implemented, the risk should be re-calculated to determine if it has been lowered to an acceptable level.
Generally speaking, newly introduced controls should lower risk by one level, i.e. from high to medium or from medium to low.
Workplace risk considerations
Risk management involves identifying what hazards exist in your workplace, assessing the risk of each, eliminating or controlling these risks and reviewing the risk assessments and controlling measures.
The process commences with the employer taking reasonable care to identify the risks associated with, but not limited to:
- Work premises
- Work practices, systems and shift working arrangements (including hazardous processes, psychological and fatigue-related hazards)
- Plant, including the transport, installation, erection, commissioning, use, repair, maintenance, dismantling, storage or disposal of the plant
- Hazardous substances, including the production, handling, use, storage, transport or disposal of hazardous substances
- Presence of asbestos
- Manual handling, including the potential for occupational overuse injuries
- Layout and condition of the workplace e.g. lighting and workstation design
- Physical working environment (including the potential for any one or more of electrocution; drowning; fire or explosion; people slipping, tripping or falling; contact with moving objects; exposure to noise, heat, cold, vibration, radiation, static electricity or a contaminated atmosphere)
- Potential for workplace violence and biological hazards
Health and Safety Risk Assessment
A Health and Safety Risk Assessment that leads to improvements in health and safety preventing accidents need not cost a lot. Focused improvements that mean major accidents will be avoided are usually low-cost; costs less and does not impinge on downtime or productivity.
There are five steps to risk assessment. The five steps are:
Step 1: Identify the hazards
Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precaution
Step 4: Record your findings and implement them
Step 5: Review your assessment and update if necessary
Identify the workplace hazards
First, you need to work out how people could be harmed. When you work in a place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards. Here are some tips to help you identify the ones that matter:
The Public Health Hazardous Substances Act No.15 of 1973 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act No.85 of 1993 will give practical guidance on where hazards occur and how to control them.
Decide who might be harmed and how
For each hazard, you need to be clear about who might be harmed; it will help you identify the best way of managing the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people (e.g. ‘people working in the storeroom’ or ‘passers-by’).
In each case, identify how they might be harmed, i.e. what type of injury or ill health might occur. For example, a shelf stacker may suffer back injury from repeated lifting of boxes.
Some workers have particular requirements, e.g. new and young workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities may be at particular risk. Extra thought will be needed for some hazards.
Cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, etc, who may not be in the workplace all the time; members of the public, if they could be hurt by your activities; if you share your workplace, you will need to think about how your work affects others present, as well as how their work affects your staff, talk to them and ask your staff if they can think of anyone you may have missed.
Evaluate workplace risks and decide on precautions
Having spotted the hazards, you then have to decide what to do about them. The law requires you to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. You can work this out for yourself, but the easiest way is to compare what you are doing with good practice.
So first, look at what you’re already doing; think about what controls you have in place and how the work is organised. Then compare this with the good practice and see if there’s more you should be doing to bring yourself up to standard. In asking yourself this, consider: Can I get rid of the hazard altogether? If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
When controlling risks, apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:
- Try a less risky option (e.g. switch to using a less hazardous chemical)
- Prevent access to the hazard (e.g. by guarding)
- Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard (e.g. put barriers between pedestrians and traffic)
- Issue personal protective equipment (e.g. clothing, footwear, goggles etc)
- Provide welfare facilities (e.g. first aid and washing facilities for removal of contamination)
Record and report your findings and implement them
Writing down the results of your risk assessment, and sharing them with your staff, encourages you to do this. If you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write anything down, though it is useful so that you can review it at a later date if, for example, something changes.
We do not expect a risk assessment to be perfect, but it must be suitable and sufficient. You need to be able to show that:
- A proper check was made; you asked who might be affected;
- You dealt with all the significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved;
- The precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low;
Review your risk assessment and update if necessary
The following information is applicable for the reviewing of your risk assessment:
- Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense, therefore, to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis. Every year or so formally review where you are, to make sure you are still improving, or at least not sliding back.
- Look at your risk assessment again. Have there been any changes? Are there improvements you still need to make? Have your workers spotted a problem? Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses? Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.
- When you are running a business it’s all too easy to forget about reviewing your risk assessment, until something has gone wrong and it’s too late. Why not set a review date for this risk assessment now? Write it down and note it in your diary as an annual event.
- During the year, if there is a significant change, don’t wait. Check your risk assessment and, where necessary, amend it. If possible, it is best to think about the risk assessment when you’re planning your change, that way you leave yourself more flexibility.
Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Determining Controls
The Managing Director shall ensure that all hazards associated with its activities are assessed for risk so that precautions can be identified and actioned before work commences. The following aspects will be considered for risk assessment from preparation:
- Routine and non-routine activities
- Hazards originating externally to the workplace
- Work operations including contractor activities
- Use of infrastructure, equipment and materials
- Whenever a change occurs to systems, processes, equipment and materials etc
- Change in legislation
- Emergency situations and potential incidents e.g. fire, accidents
- Contractors and visitors to the workplace
- The capabilities of personnel including human behaviour
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