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Identification of threats in Risk Assessment

Occupational Health and Safety Leadership


Knowledge Article


A key element to the management of health and safety is the identification of associated hazards (things that may cause harm) and the likelihood that potential harm will be realised. The risk assessment process allows organisations to look at their risk and control it to a level that would be deemed acceptable.

Next, we will look at risk management and the risk assessment process.


Hazard: ‘something with the potential to cause harm (this can include articles, substances, plant or machines, methods of work, the working environment and other aspects of work organisation)’

Risk: ‘the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realised’

Risk assessment: ‘identifying preventive and protective measures by evaluating the risk(s) arising from a hazard(s), taking into account the adequacy of any existing controls, and deciding whether or not the risk(s) is acceptable’


Accident/Incident and ill-health data and rates


Incidence is what reflects the number of new cases for an event in a population over any given time frame. It is sometimes used to describe accidents as a new event.


Prevalence can be defined as the total number of cases in a particular population as a proportion of the total population. It is used as a means to represent ill-health data and statistics and accounts for both new cases and those who are already suffering.


The frequency of an accident can be used to show trends and patterns of when harm hay occur. For example; when identifying hazards, has an incident occurred previously with this activity?, what was the frequency? If you had one accident with the activity in the past 10 years then likely the risks will be low, however, if the frequency of accidents is high, more protection may be required when the hazards are identified.

Many sources of data are available to an organisation when identifying hazards for conducting risk assessments. The source of such data can be both internal and external to the organisation.


HSE – Health and Safety Executive UK

The UK’s HSE is an excellent source of information. The organisation provides up to date guidance for organisations on how to manage risk associated with their activities and industries. Much of the information is free and can be accessed around the world.

European Safety Agency

The European safety agency aim is to make European workplaces safer, healthier and more productive for the benefit of business, employees and governments

World Health Organisation (WHO)

The WHO goal is to build a better, healthier future for people all over the world. Their role is to direct and coordinate international health within the UN system. A lot of information surrounding” health” is available and monitored through the WHO.

Professional and trade bodies

Much information can be sought from professional or trade bodies. For example, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health in the UK (IOSH) can be an excellent source of information pertaining to managing risk within your business.


Internal information to the organisation is very useful and indeed required when assessing and identifying hazards associated with the organisations activities. We can find this information from a range of sources.

Injury, and ill-health data

Injury data is a good source of information within the organisation. By identifying this reactive data and analysing it you can see the trends that are emerging and the areas that will need control. For example, monthly hand injuries are high. This would allow us to see a failure in the management system and elements of control. Such information can be used to plan campaigns, identify shortcomings and monitor the health of the management system implementation.

Near-miss information

Near miss information is an excellent source. It allows us to build a picture of the top most, frequent “hazard” is. By reporting near misses, we can easily identify the top hazards that require control. This data should/would be recorded meaning that it can be traced back to analyse past events and possible predict future trends.

Maintenance records

Whether it is for machines, vehicles or plant, an items maintenance records can be good sources of information when analysing hazards and risk. A piece of machinery may require regular maintenance which requires a full shutdown each time to ensure that maintenance is carried out safely. This would allow for the identification of potential risks associated with the maintenance activities.

External and internal information sources.

Information can come from a variety of sources and can be used or misused for different reasons. You may require information for research into a new idea you would like to put forward, a risk assessment process, or while preparing a policy or training manual. This data of course has different uses and has some limitations.

Internal data

  • Accident and incident data may be useful if it reflects the true status
  • Risk assessment data
  • Compliance & noncompliance data

When comparing data between organisations, remember:

  • They may use different definitions and calculations for statistics and to classify injuries etc
  • Figures may be for employees only and could be misleading for an organisation that makes wide use of contractors
  • Culture differences – an injured worker might be brought back to work on restricted or ‘light’ duties in order to avoid recording as a lost-time accident


One of the most important aspects a risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards associated with the workplace or task. To assist with this, there are many methods and techniques available. We will look at a variety of options over this next element.

Using observation

Observations can be both formal and informal. Informal observation is the day to day mindfulness and being watchful of hazards and unsafe behaviours in the organisation. Observation is important as it can be a great tool in identifying live hazards. For example, a routine inspection would also be classed as observations as people are observing what is happening, this will allow for early hazard identification. Observation programmes can be used such as behavioural observations. This would allow for observing unsafe behaviours and hazards associated with the job.

Task analysis

There are a few different methods to assist in identifying hazards associated with a task OR job OR indeed even an activity:

Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)

A job hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks to identify hazards before they occur. This considers the person as an individuel, the job and the working environment.


Checklists are a useful way to identify hazards in the workplace. They allow for the methodical evaluation of items listed to ensure all hazards are identified. Hazards can be listed under different topics and can be general or specific. For example:

Machinery Hazard Assessment Checklist

SnItem – GuardingStatusComments/Recommendations
1Do guards stop workers touching dangerous moving parts?Yes/No 
2Do guards stop objects falling into the moving parts or from exploding out of the machine?Yes/No 
3Do guards allow safe, comfortable and easy use of the machine?Yes/No 

Another example would be from the UK’s HSE. This is in relation to the identification of slip and trip hazards

Such checklists will assist the user to keep track.

Hazard and operability studies

HAZOP (hazard and operability) studies are structured, procedural tools designed to highlight the deficiency and shortcomings in the design and operation of industrial plants

The importance of worker input

When identifying hazards, it is always key to involve the workforce. The workforce are the ones who may be exposed to the hazards every day, they will see what you or I may not see. They will understand the task and the activity and feel inclusive to the process. They will also feel that the company is doing something to improve the health and safety or the organisation, in turn improving morale. This is a great way to ensure that all hazards associated with the assessment are taken into consideration. A safety professional cannot and should not be expected to know all hazards associated with all tasks and this is where worker involvement is key.

Mike Watson SVT Ltd

Darren Platts