How to manage work risks
Different businesses will have different health and safety risks. It all depends on the type of work you do.
A healthy and safe workplace starts with identifying and understanding what your work-related health and safety risks are; particularly those that have the potential to cause people serious injury or illness. It then involves doing what is reasonable, what is practical and what you are able to do to eliminate or, where they can’t be eliminated, minimise those risks. This is what we refer to as proportionate risk management.
Your focus should be on managing your business’s most significant risks before managing less serious risks. Your work activities should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to identify any new risks that need to be managed.
Here we've pulled together some general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks. This includes a framework that guides you through the process for identifying, assessing, managing and controlling risks.
We've also developed some industry-specific examples and guidance to help get you started.
Managing your work health and safety risks
The following risk management framework describes four steps that can help you with managing your workplace health and safety risks.
Plan: Identify and assess the risks
- Start by walking around your workplace and identifying what could seriously harm the health or endanger the safety of your workers and others (for example visitors, bystanders, or someone else’s workers). This harm could be acute (occur immediately) or chronic (occur slowly over a long period of time).
- Think about your workers and whether any of them might be vulnerable (for example young people, pregnant women, casual workers, night shift workers, workers with reduced literacy levels).
- Consider whether your workers’ general health could reduce their ability to work safely (for example reduced mobility, existing illnesses or injury).
- Identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could result in risks to people’s health or safety.
- Look at your work processes and the machinery/equipment used, your workplace itself and your workers’ activities.
- To work out which risks to control, think about the consequences of being exposed to the hazards you have identified, and how likely this is to occur (the frequency with which people are exposed to the hazard and the probability that they could be harmed).
- Focus your attention initially on the risks that could cause permanent injury or illness or death to workers or others – even if this is not very likely.
- Engage with your workers when assessing your risks.
Do: Eliminate or minimise the risks
- Once you've assessed the workplace risks associated with your business, you need to decide how you will deal with them.
- Consider first whether the risk be eliminated (for example can you remove the source of the harm?). If the risk can’t be eliminated, then it must be minimised using control measures.
- To determine the control measures you should use:
- Think about the current control measures you have in place, and whether they are managing the risk. If not:
- Find out if there are any legal requirements relevant to the risk, and if there are any standards or guidance materials you could follow. For example, handling asbestos or preventing falls from heights.
- Ask others who do similar work to you how they manage the risk.
- Seek specialist advice from a competent health and safety professional(external link).
- Think about how easy and accessible the ways to control the risk are and whether they will work within your business.
- Think about whether the controls you implement could create other risks.
- The most expensive control option is not necessarily the best one. If there are well-known and effective controls already in use by your industry, and they are suited to the circumstances of your workplace, these controls may be implemented.
- Engage with your workers when making decisions about the ways to eliminate or minimise the risks.
- Communicate the risks and the control measures to your workers in a way that is appropriate to their needs ( ie appropriate to the way they work, their work environment and their literacy and language).
- Remember that good health and safety is not about good paperwork, it is about active control of risk.
Check: Monitor the control measure
- Your health and safety systems should be ‘living’ and become part of business as usual. You should check that the control measures you put in place are being used by your workers and are effective. Monitoring mechanisms might include:
- Inspections, observations and walk-throughs
- Meetings and worker feedback
- Checklists and audits
- Independent reviews
- Technology (monitoring alarms on machinery, or gas alarms for example)
- Health surveillance records
- Environmental monitoring activity (for example air quality and noise testing).
Act: Review for continuous improvement
You should review your work activities on an ongoing basis to identify any new risks that might need to be managed.
Reviewing also means thinking about the way you identify, assess and control risks – do your processes work, or is there a better way to do these activities. For example, could you involve workers more, do you need to have a different method to assess consequences and the likelihood of the risk happening, and could you improve the way that you monitor your risk control effectiveness?
It's not all about paperwork
Good paperwork does not equal good health and safety.
Documentation should be used where appropriate to support your health and safety processes. Documentation is not however a substitute for having good processes and control measures in place to actively manage your health and safety risks.