Step 1: Identify the hazards
First, you need to work out how people could be harmed. When you work in a place every day, it is easy to overlook hazards, so here are some tips to help you identify those that matter:
- Walk around your workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm.
- Ask your employees or their representatives what they think. They may have noticed things that are not immediately obvious to you.
- Consider published information on accidents and near misses on ships, which will highlight common hazards and high-risk activities.
- If you are a member of a trade association or protection and indemnity insurance (P&I) club, contact them. Many produce very helpful guidance.
- Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment because they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards and putting them in their true perspective.
- Have a look back at your accident and ill-health records – these often help to identify less obvious hazards.
- Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (e.g. high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances) as well as safety hazards.
- Consider people who may be particularly vulnerable (e.g. young persons or pregnant seafarers).
Step 2: decide who might be harmed and how
For each hazard, you need to be clear about who might be harmed, because this will help you to identify the best way of managing the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people.
- Some seafarers require particular consideration: new and young seafarers, those for whom the working language of the ship is not their first language, or those new to the ship who may not be familiar with Company or ship safety procedures may be at particular risk. Extra thought will be needed for some hazards.
- Stevedores, contractors and surveyors may not be in the workplace all the time.
- Members of the public could be hurt by your activities.
- If you share your workplace, you will need to think about how your work affects others present, as well as how their work affects your staff – talk to them.
- Ask your crew if they can think of anyone you may have missed.
- In each case, identify how they might be harmed, i.e. what type of injury or ill health might occur. For example, crew on roll-on/roll-off ferry car decks may be at risk from excess fumes.
Step 3: evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Having spotted the hazards, you then have to decide what to do about them. The law requires you to do everything ‘reasonably practicable to protect people from harm. You can work this out for yourself, but the easiest way is to compare what you are doing with good practice.
First, look at what you’re already doing; think about what controls you have in place and how the work is organised. Then compare this with the good practice and see if there’s more you should be doing to bring yourself up to standard. In asking yourself this, consider:
- Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
- If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?
When controlling risks, apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:
- Try a less risky option (e.g. switch to using a less hazardous chemical);
- Prevent access to the hazard (e.g. by guarding);
- Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard (e.g. put barriers between pedestrians and traffic);
- Issue personal protective equipment (e.g. clothing, footwear, goggles); and
- Provide welfare facilities (e.g. first-aid and washing facilities for removal of contamination).
Improving occupational safety and health need not cost a lot. For instance, placing a mirror on a dangerous blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution considering the risks. Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen.
Involve staff, so that you can be sure that what you propose to do will work in practice and won’t introduce any new hazards.
Step 4: record your findings and implement them
Putting the results of your risk assessment into practice will make a difference when looking after people and your operation.
Writing down the results of your risk assessment, and sharing them with your staff, encourages you to do this.
When writing down your results, keep it simple.
A risk assessment does not have to perfect, but it must be suitable and sufficient. You need to be able to show that:
- a proper check was made;
- you asked who might be affected;
- you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved;
- the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low; and
- you involved your staff or their representatives in the process.
If, like many businesses, you find that there are quite a lot of improvements, big and small, that you could make, don’t try to do everything at once. Make a plan of action to deal with the most important things first. Occupational safety and health inspectors acknowledge the efforts of businesses that are clearly trying to make improvements.
A good plan of action often includes a mixture of different things such as:
- A few cheap or easy improvements that can be done quickly, perhaps as a temporary
- Solution until more reliable controls are in place;
- Long-term solutions to those risks that are most likely to cause accidents or ill health;
- Long-term solutions to those risks with the worst potential consequences;
- Arrangements for training employees on the main risks that remain and how they are to be controlled;
- Regular checks to make sure that the control measures stay in place; and
- Clear responsibilities – who will lead on what action and by when.
Points to pounder :
Prioritize and tackle the most important things first. As you complete each action, tick it off your plan.
Step 5: review your risk assessment and update if necessary
Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense, therefore, to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis.
- Look at your risk assessment and think about whether there have been any changes.
- Are there any improvements you still need to make? Have your seafarers spotted a problem?
- Have you learned anything from accidents or near misses?
- Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.