SW09 – Risk Assessment

A really good first step when trying to improve your environment and practices to increase your overall safety, is to know just what you are trying to guard against, minimise, or eliminate.

So step 1 really is to conduct a Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment.

There are a number of different formulae for quantifying risk (threat), and the one that I prefer is one that takes into account the risk, the frequency of the risk and the degree of consequence.

In other words, if we look at the activity “standing outside without moving” what are the risks? (And no, this is not going to be comprehensive)

bird poo
falling whale (if you are a Hitchhikers fan) (or a Hancock fan!)
falling cow (if you are a Monty Python fan)
falling bus (if you are a Speed fan)
falling asleep

Next, what are the consequences (a scale that can be applied across all risks)

0 no short or consequence
1 minor inconvenience (little delay)
2 significant inconvenience (such as having to go back to Bunnings for more supplies)
3 limited damage (minor cut/abrasion)
4 moderate injury (stop work for running repairs)
5 significant injury (hospital/doctor attendance)
6 temporary disability / acute condition
7 permanent disability / chronic condition
8 dismemberment
9 death

Then a scale for likelihood of exposure to the risk

0 never
1 very unlikely
2 one to three times a year
3 monthly
4 weekly
5 daily
6 hourly
7 minutely (yeah I know that is not the right word, but the spell checker allowed it!)
8 continuous

And finally, a fudge factor – a user-applied modifier to allow common sense to be included in the calculation.  These numbers are then all multiplied together to provide a numerical risk value

Now I haven’t modified the above-numbers, but you may want to make the scales logarithmic.  So death has a factor of 1000 vs 100 for dismemberment for example.  Continuous risk is 100, vs weekly 10, or however you feel the balance is right.

So lets work through the above-scenarios.

risk consequence occurrence fudge result
sunburn 4 5 1 20
bird 1 3 1 3
whale/cow/bus 9 0 1 0
asleep 3 2 1 6

So now we have some numbers that we can use to assess the various perceived risks

We are more likely to suffer consequence from falling asleep when we get so bored standing around waiting to be hit by a flying whale, than suffering from a bird poo strike.  Neither are significant, so no further action is required.

However, sunburn is a real risk – it has moderate consequence (even higher if you get burned regularly, so that is where the fudge factor needs to be increased), and a likely occurence.  Stand around all day, and you will get burned if steps are not taken. (‘scuse the pun)

Now we have identified a risk, we need to deal with it.

There are 4 ways of dealing with a risk

1. avoidance (elimination)
2. reduction (mitigation)
3. transfer (outsource or insure)
4. retention (accept and budget)

In this case, we can
1. avoid (don’t stand around outside)
2. reduce (wear suntan lotion, sunproof clothing etc)
3. transfer (pay someone else to stand around outside)
4. retention (accept you are going to get burnt, so have some cream ready, and budget for skin cancer)

Hmm – guess if I need to be outside, and can’t avoid it, then suntan lotion and a shirt/hat etc is probably the best option.

Risk has been managed.

So now, we need to look inside our workshops, identify all the risks, and manage them.  There are a whole swag (you will be surprised) of risks, and how you choose to deal with them will make for whether you work in a safe environment or not.  I’m not proposing you wrap everything (and everyone) in cotton wool or bubble wrap, but getting into the habit of identifying and managing risk is a useful tool, especially when you can quantify it, and then determine where the budget is best spent.

For example, I’d look at each tool, and the risks associated.  I’d then separately look at the types of injuries and ensure that we have taken into account all the potential risk areas.  And finally, I would look at the shed as a whole, and pick up any that have slipped through.

Some things to factor in (and in no particular order, but these are all risks in my shed)

spiders (I have a number of redbacks (black widows))
dust (I generate a LOT of dust! Dust impacts on me both acutely (which causes snoring, which results in sleeping on the couch, which results in a sore neck…) and chronically (wood dust is regarded as a carcinogen in Australia)
mercury vapour if a fluro tube is broken
slips, trips, falls
cuts – sharp blades, knives, etc

and so on.

Remember too, that the risk is not only to you, but also family/visitors, pets, and neighbours (such as venting all your sawdust out of the shed (great transfer of risk, but not a great way to make friends with your neighbours!)

Give it a try, start small (as in don’t try to identify absolutely every single risk first up, just try a few main ones), and see what sort of figures you come up with.
You will find it interesting which risks actually pop to the top of the list. For example, in my shop I imagine that dust would be the number 1 risk, even though dismemberment by sawblade is a risk, it is a lot less likely if managed properly.

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