Written by Gerrit Augustyn

I am often asked what I believe to be the most important aspect in taking reasonable care of the health & safety of employees. The answer is always that proper risk assessments be done.

Risk assessments are required in both the Occupational Health & Safety Act 85 of 1993 and the Mine Health & Safety Act 29 of 1996.

We distinguish between four different risk assessments:
1. The Baseline Risk Assessment as the starting point of all risk assessments. This risk assessment focusses on the basic or generic hazards associated with every occupation/job description. From here a risk matrix or risk analysis is done to determine major, moderate and minor risk categories leading to the development of the second type of risk assessment.
2. The Issue-Based (Occupational Specific) Risk Assessment. This is the detailed risk assessment focus on one specific occupation taking into consideration the person doing the work, the equipment the person uses, the function performed by the person and the working environment.
3. The Continuous Risk Assessment. This is the risk assessment done on a continuous basis to deal with the changes in staff, equipment, process and environment.
4. The Mini (2 Minute) Risk Assessment which is typically a pre-job risk assessment on a daily basis to make employees aware of the hazards a risk to which they are exposed.

To be able to successfully conduct a risk assessment those individuals involved must be able to correctly distinguish between a hazard and a risk. A hazard is anything that has the possibility to cause damage or injury (example: Dust on a Construction Site). A risk is the probability that the particular hazard (in the example dust) will cause damage or injury (example: inhalation, contact with eyes, and contact with skin).

Many still confuse a risk and a consequence. The consequence is brought about due to the risk(s) associated with that hazard. Lung diseases will typically be the mistaken risk associated to dust. A lung disease is the consequence. The risk is inhalation that can lead to a lung disease.

For the risk assessment to be a legally binding document it has to be a record, meaning a hard copy document signed and dated by the parties involved in conducting it. The parties involved must include at least three people of whom two is compulsory (general worker and H & S Representative). The general worker knows the work the best and equally the hazards involved in doing it. The Health & Safety Representative is trained in doing Risk Assessment. They know and understand the terminology and methodology, and they can correctly distinguish between a hazard and risk. They facilitate the process of conducting the risk assessment. The third party can be a supervisor/manager etc. More people can be involved.

The issue based risk assessment is the detailed risk assessment that will lead to the processes following it to eliminate/mitigate hazards and is therefore the most important document to show reasonable care is taken in providing a working environment free of risk to health and safety.
The processes that follow from the risk assessment are the following:
1. Issue-based risk assessments – stick to basics and don’t over-complicate. It is there to protect the general worker, they must therefore be able to read and understand it.
2. Safe Operating Procedure – developed from the issue-based risk assessment instructing the employee to do his work in a manner steering him clear from “meeting” with any of the hazards identified. It is not of the intend to tell worker how to do work in competent manner, but rather how to do work in safe manner.
3. The employee must be trained on the Safe Operating Procedure and competent to follow it and the employee must also be informed of the hazards as identified in the risk assessment. Taking into consideration that we have 11 official languages in our country it is important to ensure that employees are tested and found competent to follow the SOP. Signing an attendance register does not reflect or proof competence but merely indicates attendance.
4. Job Observations – this must be done as part of supervision to ensure that employees adhere to the instructions given under the Safe Operating Procedure.

For this process to be complete and successful the starting point must be a proper issue-based risk assessment. If the risk assessment fails the whole process will fail as the one is built on the other and done in the sequence discussed above.

If the hazards and risk are not correctly classified you will leave yourself open for liability as one has to deal with the risk(s) associated to a hazard when you start eliminating/mitigating, and not the hazard. Should a risk be missed or left out there will be nothing in place to eliminate/mitigate.