According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, risk assessment is the cornerstone of effective occupational safety and health management, as well as a means of reducing work-related accidents and the incidence of occupational diseases.
A risk assessment consists of carefully tracing the production process at each workstation to identify critical points that may pose a risk to the safety and health of workers, in order to identify preventive measures and take action to counteract and reduce the risks arising from the existing hazard.
A hazard is the objectively existing danger of undesirable phenomena occurring, and a risk is the probability that, in an existing situation, these undesirable phenomena will produce negative effects. In the face of an existing hazard, the level of risk can therefore be reduced by influencing the situation. Risk assessment is one of the basic elements of the risk management process.
The risk assessment is carried out in five stages:
STAGE 1: Identification of risks
- analysis of workplaces (premises, situations, equipment, products, habits, etc.),
- interview with employees (employee representatives),
- reading the instructions for use of the equipment and the characteristics of the chemicals (e.g. plant protection product labels),
- consideration of long-term risks to workers’ health, such as high noise levels or exposure to harmful substances, as well as more complex or less obvious types of risks, such as psychosocial or work organisation factors,
- review of emergency, accident and incident reports.
For any risk, it is important to clearly identify who may be affected. This will help determine how best to manage the risk. Cleaners, contractors and members of the public may also be affected by the hazard.
STAGE 2: Identify the possible scope of harm (who/what can be harmed?) and prioritise them in order of importance
- for each type of hazard, stating the probability that the hazard will cause a specific effect, e.g. injury, and the severity of the predicted effect,
- taking into account the specificities of the various operations / workplaces / frequency of exposure and size of the groups of exposed workers,
- including people outside the production process (cleaners, subcontractors, auditors, visitors).
STAGE 3: Selection of preventive/ precautionary measures
- evaluation of the effectiveness of the measures used to date,
- review of regulations, H&S rules, good practices for suitability and fulfilment,
- selecting the most effective solutions,
The following general principles should be taken into account when preventing and controlling risks:
- risk avoidance,
- replacing unsafe processes, equipment, materials, etc. with safe or less hazardous ones,
- eliminating risks at source,
- prioritising collective protection measures over individual protection measures (e.g. limiting exposure to vapours and gases by using a ventilation system rather than dust masks),
- application of new scientific and technical developments,
- continuously improving the level of protection.
STAGE 4: Implementation of the written work plan, which should identify:
- measures to be implemented,
- responsibilities and deadlines for implementation,
- anticipated completion date,
taking into account:
- training for employees,
- implementation of selected risk mitigation measures,
- employee involvement in the implementation of solutions,
- regular checks on the functioning of the solutions,
- setting out responsibilities.
STAGE 5: Systematic review and update of the risk assessment
Regular monitoring, which must not be neglected, aims to ensure that preventive and protective measures are in place and that they are effective, as well as enabling new problems to be identified. This involves:
- inventory of changes in the production process (new machinery, technology, substances),
- analysis of new problems and improvement needs,
- an annual update of the written risk assessment.
The documentation of the risk assessment to be kept is the basis:
- information provided to the persons concerned,
- to control the introduction of the necessary measures,
- evidence submitted to the supervisory authorities,
- adjustments if changes occur.
It is recommended that the records include comprehensive data on:
- assessors (name and position),
- the nature of the threats and the level of risk,
- exposure of specific groups of workers,
- necessary protective measures,
- introduction of security measures, including the name of the person responsible and the date,
- monitoring and review of the assessment process, including dates and names of those involved,
- the participation of employees and their representatives in the appraisal process.
Taking mitigating actions based on the risk assessment carried out is the result of the risk management process. Controlling and continually sustaining this process is necessary to ensure that employees have safe and healthy working conditions and that legal requirements in this regard are met. The employer is expected to eliminate all risks to protect employees as far as practically possible. The employer also does this in its own interest because accidents or loss of health by employees can affect the state of the company (continuity and quality of production, productivity, legal liability, staff confidence).
In drawing conclusions from the level of risk identified (see Stages 1 and 2), it is important to focus on those risks that pose serious threats to workers’ health and to take action to implement long-term solutions to the risks that are most common, most likely to occur and have the most serious consequences (see Stages 3 and 4). In many cases, risks in these areas can be easily controlled by simple measures such as:
- raising staff awareness through training,
- reinforcing positive behaviour and habits of workers by placing appropriate instructions, pictograms or informative, warning or prohibitory / prescriptive signs / notices at critical points,
- appropriate work organisation,
- the use of less hazardous substances (e.g. plant protection products),
- limiting workers’ exposure to hazardous substances (e.g. providing personal protective equipment appropriate to the risk),
- using safer equipment or procedures,
- reducing workers’ exposure to harmful equipment (e.g. provision of insulation, guards, barriers on electrical and mechanical equipment, hearing and eye protection),
- ensuring the availability of health measures (first-aid kit, hygiene conditions),
- ensuring that damage control measures (fire extinguishers, water source, emergency tools and substances) are always ready.
The level of risk is not a constant parameter, but is subject to constant change due to changes in the farm and its environment (new premises, technologies, substances, equipment, variable employment, seasons, cyclical nature of production). Therefore, it is necessary to regularly review and update the risk assessment and to take appropriate action to minimise the risk (see Step 5).
The risk assessment, which identifies the sources and level of hazards at each workplace, is the basis for initiating corrective and preventive actions to eliminate or reduce hazards and their associated risks. The employer, in consultation and cooperation with management, develops a corrective plan and then takes corrective action with countermeasures in the following order:
- avoiding work processes and methods that cause hazards (exposure),
- technical measures to eliminate or reduce risks at source,
- collective protection measures,
- organisational and procedural measures (legislation, safe work instructions, training),
- personal protective equipment,
- safety signs (prohibition, warning, order, information signs).
The employer designates the persons responsible for the implementation of corrective actions to reduce the risks and sets a deadline for their implementation. This process leads to the following states:
- the risk is eliminated or reduced by
- using new, safe technologies,
- implementation of improved working methods,
- replacing materials and substances with less harmful ones,
- using safe machinery and equipment,
- protective measures have been selected to guarantee the safe use of machinery and equipment,
- procedures are in place to ensure health and safety at work.
At least once a year, the employer shall, on the basis of discussions with management, analyse the effectiveness of the measures carried out and, if necessary, plan corrective actions. The carrying out of corrective actions should be considered after each occupational accident or finding of an occupational disease of an employee.
Please note: the risk assessment must be presented in such a way that it is easy to understand and precise in the information provided. In addition to the hazards, it is important to indicate, among other things, the effects of each risk on workers’ health and life and the measures to be taken to reduce the risk.