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Managing OHS risk in your workplace

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation requires that all forseeable hazards are identified and the risks arising from these hazards are eliminated or controlled.

Risk management is a legal requirement for all businesses regardless of their size and basically it involves asking the following questions:

  • what hazards exist in the workplace?

  • how serious are the hazards?

  • what can be done to control these hazards? 

Risk management is a four step process whereby you identify hazards in the workplace, then assess the risk of those hazards and then implement control measures, which will eliminate or minimise the risk of injury from the hazards you identified.

Control measures which have been put in place must be reviewed periodically to check that they actually fix the problem, without creating another one.


Step 1: hazard identification

Hazards can be identified through:

  • workplace inspections

  • incident reporting

  • register of injuries

  • consultation with employees

  • feedback from employees. 

There are a number of business activities which can involve risk to safety. These can include: 

  • Purchasing: the equipment or chemicals purchased to run your business may introduce safety issues (e.g. plant and equipment; cleaning agents)

  • Work activities: in carrying out work tasks the physical and psychological demands of the tasks, equipment used, working environment can place employees at risk (e.g. repetitive movements, length of time spent on the computer, air quality, materials handling)

  •  Contractors/casual employees/customers: other workers who come into the workplace can be at risk or place your employees at risk from the work activities they conduct (e.g. cleaning agents used by cleaners, electrical contractors, verbal abuse by customers). 

Step 2: risk assessment

Risk Assessment determines how likely and how serious the effects will be on people in the workplace being exposed to the hazard. Work out which hazards are most serious and deal with them first. To assess the risk, you should consider: 

  • the type of hazard

  • how severely could the hazard injure or cause illness (consequence)

  • how likely is this consequence going to happen (likelihood)

  • the frequency and duration of exposure

  • who it may effect

  • capabilities

  • skills, experience and age of people

  • layout and condition of the working environment. 

Step 3: risk control

Risk Control involves deciding what needs to be done to eliminate or control the risks to health and safety. Where possible, you should always try to remove or eliminate the problem from the workplace, for example by using a different process, or changing the way a job is done.

If it is not possible to eliminate the hazard, the Hierarchy of Risk Control must be used to determine the most effective measures to minimise the risks.


Hierarchy of risk control


1. Design or reorganise to eliminate the hazard from the workplace: try to ensure that hazards are designed out when new materials, equipment and work systems are being planned for the workplace.

2. Remove or substitute the hazard: where possible remove the hazard or substitute with less hazardous materials, equipment or substances.

3. Enclose or isolate the hazard: this can be done through the use of barriers, introducing a strict work area, enclosing a noisy process from a person.

4. Minimise through engineering controls: this can be done through the use of machine guards, effective ventilation systems etc.

5. Minimise the risk by adopting administrative controls: establish appropriate procedures and safe work practices such as job rotation to reduce exposure time or boredom; timing the work so that fewer employees are exposed; routine maintenance and housekeeping procedures; training on hazards and correct work methods.

6. Personal Protective Equipment: provide suitable and properly maintained personal protective equipment and ensure employees are trained in its proper use (examples include gloves, earplugs etc.).

If no single control is appropriate, a combination of the above controls needs to be taken to minimise the risk to the lowest level that is reasonably practicable.


Step 4: review

Periodic reviews of control measures and risk assessments should be conducted to ensure the control measures implemented are appropriate and effective and the risk assessments are still valid. This can be achieved through safety audits, regular workplace inspections, consultation with employees and review of incident investigations. Risk management should be built into all workplace activities that can give rise to safety issues.

For further guidance on the risk management process review the recently developed standard AS/NZ ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management-Principle and guidelines available from Standards Australia.


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