As a business owner, the health and safety of your employees and stakeholders is your legal responsibility. You’re obliged to undertake regular risk assessments, and to act to minimise any risks you have uncovered. Start by taking a look at what a risk assessment is, and how it can help your business comply with laws and industrial regulations.
What’s the difference between risk and hazard?
A hazard is something that might cause injury or harm. A risk is the probability of a hazard hurting someone. When you do a risk assessment for your business, you’ll first have to identify the hazards present in the workplace. These could be simple physical things, like stairs; or they could be things specific to your business and premises, like chemicals or heavy machinery.
Once you have identified the hazards, it’s your responsibility to assess their likelihood of causing harm – and what you should do to minimise that risk.
Understanding who is affected by risk in your business is essential to maintaining a high safety standard. What about new, inexperienced workers, who don’t yet know everything about your industry; or workers with different ability issues; or expectant mothers?
You may have to perform a risk assessment that takes the diversity of your workforce into account. You should also stop to think about the public, and whether any non-employees or civilians may be affected by your business.
What do your employees know?
Your workforce is your most valuable asset when it comes to risk assessment. No-one knows the dangers present in your premises, and how serious a risk they pose, better than the people who work there every day. Arrange a consultation process to mine your employees’ knowledge for important information.
Some occupations have risks specifically associated with them. A roofer, for example, is at risk from falls; and a research chemist is at risk from working in chemical environments. If your business exists in an industry with known occupational hazards, it is your duty to follow industry regulations as well as general health and safety guidelines. You may be required to obtain licenses or register for regular inspections by an industry body.
What constitutes a fire hazard?
The threat of fire is common to every work premises. You should conduct a thorough fire risk assessment every year, and have a structure of trained responsible personnel in place to ensure that fire prevention and safety are kept up to scratch on a daily basis. Fire hazards increase in businesses that keep large quantities of paperwork, or whose industrial processes generate heat and sparks – but the danger of fire is everywhere.
Don’t forget the small stuff
Be careful not to let the big stuff get in the way of the little things. There are hundreds of dangers present on every work site, and in every office, which have nothing to do with the presence of hazardous chemicals or large machines. It’s important to keep your employee breakout spaces and sanitary areas clean and hygienic; and to make sure that the office as a whole is cleaned regularly and to a high standard. Consider installing hand wash dispensers like the ones provided by Germstar South Africa in bathrooms and kitchens.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Patrick van IJzendoorn