23rd April, 2018
A key question for any risk assessment is how exactly you are going to control the risks.
It's not just a record of risks, after all. It's an assessment.
Once you have spotted the hazards, and calculated the risks, you now need to get those risks under control.
A successful risk assessment must check existing controls, and assess if more should be done to prevent harm.
These controls are what's known as control measures, and they are one of the most important parts of your risk assessment. What good is assessing a risk if you don't control it?
Control measures are the things you put in place to reduce risk and prevent harm. Control measures may include one or a mixture of:
The best control measure is elimination. This means to eliminate the risk completely. Of course, this is the best control measure, because you are removing the risk entirely.
So, now we know what the best control measure is, we can just use this control for every risk and be the safest business in the world!
It doesn't quite work like that.
While in theory, it may be possible to eliminate every risk. In practice, this would mean you and your team sitting in a padded room, away from any tools or equipment and not getting any work done.
Great for safety, but not so great for your business.
What elimination is actually about, is eliminating those risks that are unnecessary. For example, working at height creates a high level of risk, so if the work can be done at ground level (e.g. using extendable poles or raising and lowering equipment) then this is a risk that can be eliminated.
What about when elimination can't be used? What if the work has to be carried out at roof height and there is no getting around it.
Enter, the hierarchy of controls.
The hierarchy of controls is simply a list of the 5 best control measures, in order of priority.
For example, item number 1 in the list (which it should now be no surprise, it's elimination) is the best and should be considered first before moving to item number 2.
We have already discussed this earlier on in this post, and elimination should always be the first control measure you consider.
Can this risk be removed entirely from this activity?
Substitution is the second best control measure you could use.
Maybe the risk cannot be removed entirely, but could it be reduced by replacing the material, substance or process with something less dangerous?
Third on our list, are engineering controls. These are usually fixed temporary or permanent controls.
Engineering controls could be collective (protecting all workers e.g. edge protection for work at height) or individual (protecting a single user e.g. anchor points for connecting via lanyard). Give priority to measures which protect collectively over individual measures.
At number four, we have administrative controls. While this type of control is lower down on the list it will often be an essential part of your control measures.
These are rules and systems to carry out the work. What are the procedures you need to work safely?
Last, but not least on our list, is personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE).
PPE is the last line of defence against a hazard, so while it shouldn't be your first choice when controlling risks, it can give added protection for any remaining level of risk, or should other controls fail.
You don't have to pick just one control for each risk from the top 5. If the risk cannot be eliminated completely, then often, the best way to control it will be through a combination of the other 4 control measures.
For example, you may be able to replace a toxic chemical for one that is no longer toxic but is still dangerous. You might then need to implement engineering controls (secure storage area, fume extraction), administrative controls (training and job rotation to limit exposure) and PPE (gloves, RPE, googles) for its use.
Remember to make sure all the controls work well together, are detailed in your risk assessment, communicated to your team, and are regularly reviewed and maintained to make sure they remain effective.
If chosen, PPE should be selected and fitted by the person who uses it. Workers must be trained in the function and limitation of each item of PPE.