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Managing risks

In every work environment, there are hazards that could cause your workers harm. The word risk describes how likely that harm is to happen and how severe that harm could be.

Some risks are obvious, like the risk of falls from an unmarked ledge, or burns from a hot oven. Other risks are harder to see, like muscle strain from repetitive work activities, or the stress caused by bullying.

What are my risk management responsibilities?

Your business must have a clear process in place to eliminate or minimise risks to your workers. There are two key reasons why:

  1. Managing and reducing risks prevents incidents before they happen, protecting your workers’ safety and productivity.
  2. Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

How can I design a safer workplace?

A great way to reduce the number of risks in your business is to design your place of work, work tasks and the way you use equipment to be safe. This will mean you’re less likely to introduce risks that then have to be managed.

For example, when designing your workplace, make sure:

  • work flows smoothly and sequentially
  • workstations are adjustable to suit workers of different sizes and capabilities
  • people are physically separated from moving vehicles and dangerous equipment
  • you plan for relocations, refurbishments or when introducing new engineering systems.

When designing tasks and processes, give your workers:

  • manageable workloads
  • reasonable hours
  • appropriate duties – for example, avoid excessive manual handling or repetitive tasks
  • enough time to comfortably complete their tasks.

When using new equipment, make sure:

  • the item is fit-for-purpose
  • equipment is safely guarded
  • it’s stored correctly
  • workers know how to use it safely
  • it’s regularly maintained
  • you get safety data sheets and operating manuals from your designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers.

When should I manage risks?

Risk management is an ongoing process. You should review risks on a regular basis, or whenever there are changes in the way your business works. Triggers for risk management are:

  • starting or buying a business
  • changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
  • buying new or used equipment
  • using new substances
  • planning to improve productivity or reduce costs
  • responding to new information about workplace risks
  • responding to workplace incidents (even if they have caused no injury)
  • dealing with concerns raised by workers, health and safety representatives or others at the workplace
  • as required by the Work Health and Safety Regulation for specific hazards.

How do I manage risks in my business?

To protect your workers from injury, all Queensland employers should follow a four-step risk management process. This will help you identify hazards, assess risks, find ways to control those risks, and then make sure those controls keep working.

Following this simple process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety laws.

Four steps to managing risk

The first step to manage risk in your business is to identify any hazards.

A hazard is anything that could cause harm to people. Some hazards are part of the work process, like machinery, stairs or toxic chemicals. Others are failures, like broken equipment or human error.

Common work hazards include:

  • manual tasks with heavy loads or repetitive movements
  • machinery or equipment with moving parts
  • hazardous chemicals like acids or dusts
  • hot or cold temperature extremes
  • psychosocial hazards like work-related stress.

Learn more about work-related hazards.

How to identify hazards at work

Put together a full list of all hazards in your place of work by:

Inspecting your business
  • Walk through your place of work, looking at the environment and work processes, like how workers are using equipment or chemicals. You should also record any general housekeeping issues.
  • Don't forget hazards you can't see, or that could affect your workers' health over a longer period of time. These could be things like workplace bullying or shift work causing stress or fatigue.
Talking to your workers
  • Discuss your workers’ health and safety concerns, near misses or unreported incidents. You could also use a confidential survey to identify problems that are less obvious, like workplace bullying.
Reviewing available information

Look at information from a range of sources to identify other hazards. Your sources should include:

  • information from regulators, industry associations, unions and technical specialists
  • workers’ compensation data for your organisation and your industry
  • plant, process and chemical-specific information in instructions and datasheets from manufacturers and suppliers
  • business-specific information from your own records, including any recorded incidents, sick leave or worker complaints .

View the hazard identification checklist (PDF, 0.03 MB).

Next, you'll need to assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. This information will help you choose the best ways to control that risk.

You can use this risk assessment template(PDF, 0.03 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

When should I perform a risk assessment?

Many common hazards already have well-known risks and controls, such as slip and trip hazards. If you can quickly eliminate the risk from these common hazards (for example, removing trip hazards from a walkway), you can skip the risk assessment process. But managing risks is an ongoing process and many workplace hazards won’t be obvious right away. It’s best practice to complete the full risk assessment process, especially when:

  • your workplace layout or practices are changed
  • new equipment, materials or work processes are introduced
  • there is an injury or near miss.

For hazards that are more specific to your business, view your industry.

How to assess risks at work

For each hazard, work out:

  • the severity of harm it could cause (from discomfort to serious injury or death)
  • how likely that harm is to occur (from certain to unlikely or rare)
  • what controls are already in place to reduce the risk of harm
  • how urgently additional action needs to be taken.

The level of risk you assess for each hazard will depend on all these factors. For example, meshing gears in an enclosed gearbox can cause severe crushing injuries. However, this injury can only happen when the gearbox is open during maintenance. This means the risk during normal operation may be low – but during maintenance the risk may be quite high.

Once you know the risks in your place of work, you need to protect workers by controlling the risks effectively.

A control is any measure that reduces a risk. Sometimes, a single control might be enough to eliminate a risk, like removing a tripping hazard from the work environment. Other risks might need several control measures.

You should choose the controls that either remove the hazard or reduce the risk most effectively. The law requires you to implement controls that minimise risk as far as reasonably practicable. This means doing what you are reasonably able to do.

Always include your workers in any decisions about risk control. Their experience will help you choose control measures that work on paper and in practice.

How to control risks at work

Use the hierarchy of controls to help you decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. Always choose controls from the highest level you can, while balancing the unique circumstances in your business.

Use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) to help you develop effective controls in your place of work.

Understanding the hierarchy of controls

The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks.

You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Diagram outlining the hierarchy of risks

LEVEL 1 controls eliminate the hazard, removing the risk completely. For example, you can eliminate the risk of a fall from height by doing the work at ground level.

LEVEL 2 controls eliminate as many of the risks associated with the hazard as possible. These controls include:

  • substituting the hazard for something safer, like replacing solvent-based paints with water-based ones
  • isolating the hazard by physically separating people, like installing rails around exposed edges
  • using engineering controls, like trolleys, hoists and safety switches.

LEVEL 3 controls rely on human behaviour and supervision and are the least effective way to reduce risk. You should only use level 3 controls as a last resort, or in addition to other control measures. They include:

  • setting up administrative processes, like procedures, rules and warning signs
  • using personal protective equipment, like ear muffs, respirators or protective eye wear.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business and you should review your control measures regularly. Don't wait for something to go wrong.

In some situations, work health and safety legislation requires you to review controls. These are:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not effectively controlling a risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

How do I review my business' control measures?

You can repeat the 'identify hazards' step of the risk management process to review your existing controls. If you find problems, you should then work through the full risk management process to develop more effective ways to manage risk.

The How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) includes a list of questions to help you identify any issues.

What sort of records should I keep?

You should keep a written record of all your business's risk management decisions and activities. This will make future risk assessments simpler and easier. If an incident occurs, well-kept records will also help you demonstrate that you’ve met your duty of care for your workers.

You should record:

  • the types of hazards, the assessed risks and the chosen control methods (including any hazard checklists and worksheets you've used)
  • how and when you implemented, monitored and reviewed the control measures
  • the names of any people you consulted with
  • records of training
  • any plans for changes.

There are specific record-keeping requirements for some hazards, like hazardous chemicals and carcinogens.

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