As a safety professional, we know performing risk assessments is worth it- it is an integral piece of managing a safety program. Assessing risks and identifying hazards are considered the beginning steps that must be completed when approaching the management of any safety-related area. Risk assessments are the starting point for handling a bloodborne pathogens program, chemical hygiene, personal protective equipment, and many other lab matters. But how can you be sure they have been performed correctly, and how often should they be performed?
OSHA says performing the risk assessment is worth it. They state, "the employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)." They go on to say, "the employer shall verify that the required workplace hazard assessment has been performed through a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated; the person certifying that the evaluation has been performed; the dates(s) of the hazard assessment; and which identifies the document as a certification of hazard assessment."
OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard requires that labs perform an exposure risk determination for each employee. Employers who work with blood and body fluids must assess exposure risk levels by job classification, and then assess exposure risk for tasks performed in the workplace. There are many other types of risk assessments that must be performed, and regulatory agencies stipulate that they must be reviewed and updated every year. Things change in a dynamic department like the laboratories and clinics, and understanding the changing risks of harm can be key to keeping staff safe.
The four basic steps included in a risk assessment are hazard identification, identifying those at risk, choosing control measures, and reviewing the findings. It may sound easy, but hazards can come in many forms (physical, mental, chemical, biological, etc.), so walk around the area to look for those you may have missed. Review incident records as well to see what harm is occurring in the workplace. Next, determine what other employees may be harmed and how. Consider those who work each day and those that are just passing through the area. An evaluation of the risks follows. If the risk cannot be removed, decide what controls (engineering, administrative, PPE) need to be in place. Finally, review each risk assessment on a regular basis. Things change in the workplace, and with change may come new hazard risks – or even the reduction of potential harm if risks have been reduced via elimination or substitution. Again, examine these assessments at least annually or whenever major changes occur in a particular safety arena.
For many workplaces, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new testing platforms and procedures to the department, and this testing had to be implemented quickly. Is there a way to use risk assessments to help introduce new processes safely? Absolutely! The use of a standard form to assess the potential hazards of new or updated processes and/or equipment is actually a high quality finishing touch on an overall assessment program, and unfortunately, it is something that is often missing.
Keeping staff safe from exposures and injuries in the workplace is a massive and time-consuming task, but it is required by many regulatory agencies and it needs to be a top priority. When used properly and completely, a risk assessment can be a powerful tools that begins your look into safety hazards and then closes the loop to avert them. Having an awareness and control of departmental hazards is one way to rock safety in the workplace.