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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 57-58

Risk assessment: A neglected tool for health, safety, and environment management

Retired Occupational Health Physician, HUL, A-6, Bhagirath Society, Plot no 8, Jayaprakash Nagar, Goregaon (E), Mumbai, India

Date of Web Publication13-Feb-2013

Correspondence Address:
Damodar Vishnu Lele
A-6, Bhagirath Society, Plot no 8, Jayaprakash Nagar, Goregaon (E), Mumbai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.107064

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How to cite this article:
Lele DV. Risk assessment: A neglected tool for health, safety, and environment management. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2012;16:57-8

How to cite this URL:
Lele DV. Risk assessment: A neglected tool for health, safety, and environment management. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Aug 7];16:57-8. Available from:

Risk assessment has become a standard phrase in health, safety, and environment (HSE) management over the last couple of decades. Although many people have heard of it, not so many know what it really means.

Risk assessment is nothing more than a careful examination of what, in our work, could cause harm to people, so that we can weigh up whether we have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. The aim is to make sure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill. It involves identifying the hazards present in any undertaking (whether arising from work activities or from other factors, e.g. the layout of the premises) and then evaluating the extent of the risks involved, taking into account existing precautions.

Unknown, hidden, undetected or unrelated risks cause more uneasiness. Moreover, employees use their own procedures when not being directed or when not being supervised. We look for unsafe conditions but not for unsafe acts, may be because of ignorance, arrogance, apathy or complacency. We need to uncover unsafe practices during our rounds to understand the reasons for such practices. What we find depends upon what we look for.

The results of a suitable and sufficient risk assessment would help users to choose which good preventive / corrective practice measures are most appropriate.

The main use of quantitative analysis is to understand risk and how best to reduce it and not to prove that something is safe.

Our ability to eliminate or control risks depends entirely on our ability to identify/anticipate them. Risk cannot be managed or addressed unless it is first identified. Risk assessment is a proactive process, not a reactive one-prepare for risks before they happen. Identify risks and develop appropriate risk mitigating strategies before things go wrong.

  We can Change the Conditions Under Which People Work Top

It is important for all of us to be aware of the intentions behind risk assessment. Many employers view risk assessment as mere legal/statutory requirement or as a certification requirement and are contented to have few pieces of paper with a few notes on it. This is not sufficient.

It should also be understood that severity of a risk cannot be reduced. We can only bring down the probability or likelihood down to an acceptable level.

  Why is Risk Assessment Important? Top

It is a first step towards systematic, successful occupational HSE management. We start of by getting basics right.

The only alternative to risk management is crisis management and crisis management is more expensive, time consuming, and embarrassing. A risk is something that can be a problem in the future. Risks may turn into problems. We can reduce or avoid future problems by reducing their probabilities or consequences.

It is important to know the risks and to ensure that there is a real reduction in the exposure of workers and we are just not replacing one risk with another.

There is a risk in everything we do. As individuals we carry out risk assessments subconsciously all the time, for example, where, how, and when to cross the road. We do these assessments quickly, and we base them on experience, the available information, common sense, and our own judgment.

Risk assessment is a continuous process!

IT IS NOT ABOUT: Stopping people from doing things, Creating long, complex, and bureaucratic arrangements.

IT IS ABOUT : Identifying ways of enabling people to do things in a safe way, Identifying practical steps to protect people from the risks that cause real harm and suffering.

Quality of risk assessment will depend upon resources availability, information, training, experience, support, time devoted, involvement, motivation and interest of the team, and its composition.

Employees, at times, out of helplessness, voluntarily or habitually accept risks and suffer unnecessarily. Risks also creep in when they are accepted due to familiarity or saturation.

Ignorance and indifference are the worst enemies which can be corrected only by raising awareness and by continuous training. Ignorance, apathy, "Chalata hai" attitude," not my job" philosophy, and poor motivation create problems during effective management of HSE.
"In most disasters there was obvious prior warning of what could occur but management failed to act. Most root causes are associated with weaknesses, defects, or breakdowns in Management Systems. "Accidents are not due to lack of knowledge, but failure to use the knowledge we have."

Many businesses think that undertaking risk assessment is a difficult and complicated process, and as a result, it is often misunderstood. For this reason many companies employ third party consultants to complete a series of assessments and prepare the required documentation, which is neither understood nor read by anybody in the company and is finally deposited in a remote cupboard/bookshelf never to be opened/read till next audit.

Hazard identification and risk assessment methodologies vary greatly across industries, ranging from simple assessment to complex quantitative analyses with extensive documentation. Individual hazards may require that different methods be used, e.g. an assessment of long term exposure to chemicals may need a different method than that taken for equipment safety or for assessing an office workstation. Each organization should choose approaches that are appropriate to its scope, nature, and size, and which meet its needs in terms of detail, complexity, time, cost, and availability of reliable data. Taken together, the chosen approaches should result in a comprehensive methodology for the ongoing evaluation of the organization's risk.

  But what if the Assessment is Flawed? Where do we fail? Top

What should we do after we have carried out a risk assessment?

Take Action!

A risk (high, medium or low) is the chance that somebody will be harmed by the hazard (e.g. the likelihood of somebody falling off a ladder or suffering an electric shock).

Interventions should be agreed with the workforce (either directly or through worker safety representatives). The agreed solutions should be carefully implemented, monitored, and evaluated. The information arising from the risk assessment must be shared with the appropriate persons.

  Monitor and Review the Findings Top

It is important to perform and use evaluation as a way to assess which aspects of the interventions were successful and which were not, and to see what works best for the specific establishment.

Assess the effectiveness of the control measures ensure that the risks have been appropriately reduced and that other hazards have not been created. Ways of working change, and so do hazards and risks. When a significant change takes place, check to make sure that there are no new hazards that need addressing. Repeat the risk assessment when necessary.

  Communicate Top

The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished. Tell people what you are doing. Talk to the worker representatives. Involve them in the risk assessment process and tell them what you are doing to reduce risk. Participation makes them accountable as well.

  The Need for Regular Management Reviews and Look for Changing Risks Top

The tone from the top is important with appropriate decisions based on regular review. Risk assessment is not a one-off event. It is (or should be) a continuous event that reacts to change.

CONDUCT REVIEW IF: There is a reason to believe that it is no longer valid, There has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates.

It is good practice for assessments to be reviewed at regular intervals as well to ensure that changes have not slipped through.

Most systems fail not because of inherent flaws but because nobody is making sure they are maintained and linked to all other programs and systems.

Consequences of failure are becoming less and less permissible due to enormous repercussions.

We are creatures of habit; find a way to sustain the focus and it will become second nature.

It is a nonstop race where newer and newer hazards are introduced every day with changes in technology and with newer inventions. We may have to look at newer developments such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, communications technology, etc. carefully and understand them better to proactively work for eliminating/reducing their risks.

The causes of tomorrow's events exist today!


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