The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency under the US Department of Labor that travels around inspecting businesses to assure that safe and healthful working conditions are being met for men and women in the workplace. To help enforce these standards, OSHA can hand out hefty fines for violating and not meeting certain criteria. Within the OSHA website, you can search cases with initial penalties above $40,000. Since January 8th, 2015, OSHA has handed out over two billion dollars in penalties in Oklahoma alone, with over $600,000 already in 2017. As OSHA enforces these standards and penalties, it can mean the end for small, and even large, businesses. For companies wanting to get ahead, having a risk assessment completed can help identify where potential gaps in hazards and dangers exist within the work environment.
These risk assessments can range from internal employees to hiring professionals that have experience in setting up, assessing, and putting into place controls that can help mitigate and even eliminate potential risks. Not only do the above cases point to legal duties and obligations companies face when dealing with risk, once they are identified, current employees will feel safer in the work environments, thus producing better work. These risk assessments are easy to run and can be completed in as quickly as a couple days or take as long as six months to a year, depending on the size of your company. The risk assessment can be simplified down into the five W’s: What, Who, When, Write, and Why.
- What: This involves identifying the hazards and risks associated that are currently in place in the work environment. These can be identified by observing current workers and settings of the workplace. Hazards can come in many forms, from chemical, physical, and even psychosocial. The assessment should take into consideration the mental state of the employees to keep an eye out for fatigue, stress, and even harassment and violence.
- Who: This involves who is at risk and what kind of harm can come to these individuals. Again, watching the employees and studying their work habits is a great place to start. You can also conduct interviews with employees to better understand what they go through in the work environment. This step is crucial, as once the person at risk is identified, you can begin deciding the best way to control the risk.
- When: Once the risks and hazards are identified, and the individuals at risk, you can begin focusing on when you should put control measures in place. Can you completely avoid or eliminate the risk by putting in place countermeasures? Maybe the risk can be contained at the source, thus greatly reducing the risk for the individuals involved.
- Write: Once you have measures in place (instructions written up for employees to follow), you then continue your observation and write out the details of the new work environment and compare it to the old. This allows you to assess how well you have improved the work environment from its previous conditions. This stage should also include communicating with/to the employees as to why certain things were put into place.
- Why: Lastly, you should always re-evaluate your work environment and assessments and continually ask why you have certain measures in place and if improvements can be made. This can be done by more observation, but the best method is talking to those employees on the ground level and asking for their feedback on what is currently in place and how it affects their work environment and if it interferes with their work.
Accidents happen and even the best laid risk assessment can miss hazards, or mitigating certain risks can lead to other potential risks. But by having a method in place to take an in-depth look at workplace environments, companies can greatly decrease the possibility of a workplace accident, and also avoid hefty fines from agencies such as OHSA.