In the realm of workplace health and safety (WHS), identifying and assessing risks is essential for creating a safe and secure environment. A crucial step in this process is assigning risk ratings, which quantify the potential harm and likelihood of occurrence associated with various hazards. This process involves a careful analysis of both physical and psychological risk factors.

Understanding the risk matrix:

A commonly used tool is a risk assessment form, which must include a risk matrix. This is a matrix that defines the level of risk by considering probability of occurrence (or likelihood), against the consequence of severity. This creates a visual representation that aids in decision-making and prioritisation of risk mitigation strategies. A typical risk matrix is shown below;

Think holistically, capture all types of health and safety risks

Assuming you have identified the hazard, you then need think of all foreseeable risks associated with the hazard. The risk assessment form would have multiple rows for adding different risks.

It’s crucial to recognise that risks come in diverse forms. Traditional risk assessments often focus on tangible physical hazards, such as machinery-related injuries or chemical exposures. However, the impact of psychological factors on employee well-being is gaining prominence. A holistic approach that integrates both physical and psychological risk assessments is required in all situations.

Example:

The identified hazard may be:
Working with a participant who may display challenging behaviours including hitting workers.

When considering the potential risks associated with this, you would include;

  • Being hit/struck by participant: Physical injuries such as bruises, fractures, scratches etc.
  • Being hit/struck by participant: Psychological injuries, such as anxiety or PTSD. If you don’t know the exact psychological injury type, you must still write it as a potential risk (e.g. “psychological injury”) to demonstrate you have identified that this could be an issue.

If the participant is required to be driven or transported, the risk associated with that must be considered, as such you may add a risk such as: “Vehicle accident due to distraction or incident in moving vehicle” – the potential risks associated with that would include injury, including death, and damage to property.

Determining likelihood

Likelihood is basically ‘what’s the chance of it happening?’

Likelihood levels may include descriptors such as:  

  • Rare (e.g. may occur in exceptional circumstances / once every 5 years)
  • Unlikely (e.g. could occur sometimes / once a year)
  • Possible (e.g. will probably occur / more than once a year)
  • Likely (e.g. will probably occur in most circumstances / once a month)
  • Almost Certain (e.g. expected to occur in most circumstances / weekly/daily)

Once hazards are identified, evaluate their likelihood of occurrence. Consider historical data, expert opinions, and the effectiveness of existing control measures. For instance, if the participant discussed in the example is provided services every day rather than monthly, the likelihood of an incident may be much higher.

Determine consequence

Consequence is assigning a potential outcome to the possible incident. This requires the assessor/s to be open minded and realistic. It does not pay to be conservative when assessing potential consequences. It will be useful to follow the same principles as above, using historical data, expert opinions, industry information and Codes of Practice etc to identify possible consequences. For machinery, always refer to the Manual and what potential hazards/risks are listed (e.g. electrocution, crush, pinch, etc).

Consider potential injuries and whether they may be permanent, including psychological injuries. The possibility of a long term or permanent injury may be higher than initially expected. Consider that a serious physical injury (e.g. an amputation) may lead to a psychological injury too, which could be listed as a separate line/risk.

Consequence levels may include descriptors such as:

  • Insignificant (e.g. no injuries/minor issue – no treatment)
  • Minor (e.g. minor injuries, first aid)
  • Moderate (e.g. medical treatment / some lost time)
  • Major (e.g. Long term/permanent injury, hospitalisation)
  • Catastrophic (e.g. fatality / multiple life threatening injuries)

Determine Risk Rating

Combine the likelihood and consequence rating on the matrix – meeting at the applicable risk rating (low, medium, high or extreme). This results in a risk rating that aids in prioritising risk mitigation strategies. The interplay between physical and psychological factors becomes apparent here. For example, a physical hazard like inadequate machine guarding leading to severe injuries might have a similar severity rating as a psychological hazard like chronic workplace stress leading to burnout.

Next steps

Identify and implement strategies that address the risks listed in the assessment. Risk controls must be prioritised in order of level of risk. The organisation may establish a Tolerability Table, which identifies required timeframes or actions for each level of risk.

For example, any catastrophic risks should have the activity cease/stop until changes can be made to make the risk rating lower, or the risk eliminated. A “low” risk rating may require changes to the hazard within 6 months.

Summary

To comprehensively address workplace health and safety, it’s crucial to consider and include both physical and psychological risks in risk assessments, where applicable. Considering both types of risk factors helps in creating a more accurate risk profile for the organisation and risk controls will be more appropriate and effective.

About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.

 

Disclaimer

The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.

 

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