Safety and health in the workplace
Risk assessment and analysis
Risk assessment and analysis
Risk assessment and analysis are the foundations of occupational safety and health. Pursuant to the Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a duty to systematically and adequately analyse and identify the risks posed by work to their employees’ health and safety.
Pursuant to the Act, risk assessments must be verifiable. In practice, this usually means using a written or an electronic risk assessment system.
Risk assessments should be planned with care. Employers who do not have enough know-how to carry out risk assessments independently must turn to experts for advice. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that their chosen expert is up to the task.
One expert that employers can turn to is their occupational health care provider, who carries out a workplace survey that includes assessing the impact of the hazards associated with work to employees’ health.
The assessment technique must be chosen taking the number of employees and the nature of the work into account
Employers are free to choose the risk assessment technique that best serves their needs. The website of the occupational safety and health administration has links to risk assessment templates and browser-based systems that are easy to tailor to the needs of individual workplaces. A written risk assessment can be a legal requirement in the case of certain sectors of the economy or work that poses a particular risk to employees’ health (such as chemical, biological or physical hazards or the risk of violence).
The chosen risk assessment technique must be sufficiently comprehensive in view of the sector in which the employer operates, the nature of their business and the number of employees. Any special characteristics of the work, such as working alone or in demanding conditions, must be factored into the assessment. There are special laws that employers must observe in order to prevent hazards associated with certain kinds of work (such as construction work and the handling of dangerous chemicals).
It is the employer’s duty to analyse all risks associated with their employees’ work and work environment. Assessments must cover all the work carried out in the workplace, including
- maintenance work
- shutdowns and other special circumstances
- subcontracting, and
- work performed outside of the workplace (including abroad) and, in the case of shared workplaces, any work carried out by employees of other employers as well as self-employed persons.
Issues to be addressed in the course of risk assessments
Risk assessments must take into account any existing occupational safety and health management systems and procedures that are already in place in the workplace. For example, if the work comes with an evident risk of violence, the employer must have procedures in place for dealing with the risk.
The performance of the management systems in practice must also be assessed. For example, if the employer has introduced procedures for dealing with psychosocial workload but there are a lot of workload-related sickness absences, the performance of the management system must be reviewed and any necessary changes introduced.
The risk assessment process also includes ensuring that any employees whose work involves a special risk of illness are having regular health examinations.
Useful sources of background information for risk assessments include the occupational health care provider’s workplace survey and records of sickness absences, occupational diseases, accidents and incidents. In order for employers to be able to analyse the aforementioned data, they must have an effective monitoring system in place for collecting the information in the workplace.
The safety of work equipment can depend on, for example, the build of the employee operating the equipment. This is why risk assessments must also factor in the personal characteristics of employees on a general level (such as the effects of ageing, work experience and qualifications).
The needs of any special groups (such as young workers, pregnant women and persons with disabilities) must also be taken into account.
Risk assessments must cover at least the following issues relating to the work environment:
- physical workload, such as
- manual lifting and repetitive work
- ergonomics when working with display screen equipment
- psychosocial workload, such as
- threats of violence
- harassment and inappropriate treatment
- workload resulting from working hours and work arrangements
- safety of machinery and equipment
- exposure to chemical, biological or physical hazards, such as
- reprotoxic exposure agents
- dangerous chemicals
- infectious diseases, mould, spores and other similar biological exposure agents
- vibration, noise, electricity and radiation
- use and purchasing of personal protective equipment and assistive devices
- health and safety hazards arising from the work environment, such as
- adequate lighting
- healthy indoor air
- order and cleanliness
- protection against falls from heights
- access routes
- accident prevention, rescue plans and first aid, and
- personnel rooms.
The risk assessment report must be kept in the employer’s possession and up to date. In other words, the assessment must be revised whenever circumstances change in the workplace.