by Brad Bradish, Manager, Health & Safety/Injury Risk Management for SRG
On a regular basis, I hold information sessions with students about health and safety and their rights in the workplace. During these talks, I always end up speaking about risk assessment, and more often than not the students look instantly bored. They’re reminded of forgotten math and hand writing skills, the geography of small countries in Europe, and other things they feel will never apply in the real world. I have to remind them that almost every decision they made today was done by a form of risk assessment.
By definition, risk assessment is figuring out the mathematical probability of any potential hazards for an activity. Think of it in simpler terms: do you look both ways before crossing a busy road? As you look left, then right, you have just completed a mini risk assessment. A busier road means a higher risk of being harmed by a hazard – in this case being hit by a vehicle while crossing. In a blink of an eye, you decided to lower the risk of being hit by looking both ways. It doesn’t eliminate the hazard, but by doing so it lowers your risk.
The risk assessment process can be tied to almost any decision you make. Think about the clothes you are wearing right now. You made a risk assessment based on your clothing and what you want to portray, based on what you want others to think, or not to think.
Remember that risk assessments are deeply personal and relate to our own individual personalities. During my sessions, I ask students how many of them would be willing to jump from one building to another for a large sum of money. I slowly increase the distance between the buildings – 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet… Eventually, I run out of students willing to ‘take the risk’ and make the jump. Students realize that each person makes their own decision on safety.
Let’s table this talk of individual risk assessment momentarily and relate it to the environment in which you work. Risk assessments are also important tools for senior managers, supervisors, team leaders, and Health & Safety representatives. Everyone has a different opinion on what constitutes a hazard and what they are willing to risk, but it is up to each organization to establish a risk tolerance that is best for the company’s operations, and in turn the corresponding policies and procedures, to coincide and manage this acceptable level of risk.
Risk assessments are one of the most important skills you can exercise in the workplace. For an individual, by learning and honing in on your own personal risk assessment skills, you are able to assess your own safety while in the workplace. Risk assessments are an integral part of your health and safety rights, in particular the right to refuse unsafe work. By recognizing and maintaining our internal risk assessments, we are able to monitor our tolerance, exerting our right to refuse unsafe work and keeping us all a little safer.