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How to benefit from general hazard assessments

Document should not be created to simply meet audit protocol requirements
late night office

General assessments are commonly found in many basic audit tools. Fifty years ago, few people had heard of these assessments. General assessments are the assessments of employee positions, tasks and hazards. They typically have a risk quantification component, requiring a risk rating, and a corrective action section.

Of the hundreds of audits that I have completed for companies, I have observed that most companies do not get the full benefit out of the general hazard assessment process. This is unfortunate, as it has cost industries hundreds of millions to meet this requirement. Imagine the amount of work that is needed to systematically assess every job and task in your company, review the assessments with employees and update the documents. Then, multiply this by the number of companies participating in this assessment requirement and you are looking at more like billions of dollars than millions. My test for how many companies are actually benefiting from all the work that has gone into creating general assessments is the layers of dust I see on the hazard assessment binders presented to me for review. If you have a binder of hazard assessment documents that have been completed more for your auditor to review and score versus use internally, you may be missing a great opportunity to benefit from this assessment process.

Before you can benefit from the general assessment documents that your people so painstakingly created, you need to first make sure that they are quality documents. Assess them for quality through the following actions:

•Remove vague phrases such as “be aware” or “be careful.” Add words describing specifically how hazards will be controlled.

•Ensure the assessments evaluate each task individually and each hazard individually. Do not accept group assessments. When hazards are grouped, it is impossible to assess the risk to the group. In addition, the corrective actions identified to address the group hazards are not specific enough to eliminate the hazards.

•Ensure that every corrective action not completed is assigned and dates for completion are documented and monitored. Hold those employees responsible for followup.

All health and safety documents should be created for the benefit of the company. No document should be created to simply meet audit protocol requirements. Here are some suggestions on how to benefit from the general hazard assessments:

•Employee orientation: New employees should have the opportunity to review all assessment documents relative to their work. This is an excellent way to help a new employee get orientated to his job tasks and hazards.

•Work procedures: Use hazard assessments to update work procedures and practices. If the assessment documents are updated regularly, there is often new preventive information that should also be updated into the procedures. Employees typically refer directly to a procedure for work direction — not the assessment document. This will result in procedures that are up to date and reflect all hazard assessment information. One could argue the assessment and procedure documents should be one document. I have clients that had great success in merging the two documents.

•Training: Training opportunities are frequently identified in the corrective action section of the hazard assessment. Make sure these opportunities are incorporated into training needs assessments. This will help ensure your employees are 100 per cent prepared to safely do the work they may be required to do. 

From this auditor’s perspective, success in this program is contingent primarily on quality. If you don’t ensure the assessments are of high quality, employees will not value them. If the assessments are valued, they can be used for other preventive purposes such as to identify training needs and improve procedures. Good quality assessments play a central role in any incident prevention program.

Dennis Ryan

Dennis Ryan is the president of Compass Health & Safety, a consulting company whose primary consulting services relate to the assessment of health and safety programs typically though system audits and safety perception surveys. Ryan is a graduate of Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the University of Alberta occupational health and safety certificate program. During his 45 year career in health and safety, Ryan obtained certifications in safety (CRSP) and occupational hygiene (OHST). Over the last 30 years he instructed various OHS courses at the University of Alberta and at other secondary institutions. Visit www.compasshealthandsafety.com for more information.
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