Risk assessment

Introduction
Training
Ergonomics
Equipment
Environment
Ventilation
Exposure

Introduction

The degree of risk involved in a task must be accurately analysed, taking in all the factors that may influence this risk. The factors range from the training provided to the design of the equipment and may vary from situation to situation.

Training

The level of training or knowledge that staff possess that is required to work safely is highly significant. Inexperienced, untrained and unskilled workers will be at greater risk of injury. It is a fact that a high percentage of workers injured were new to the industry. New staff should be thoroughly trained, not only in the process of the task but in how to conduct the task safely. When developing training there may be additional requirements needed to be taken into account, such as languages; if the staff do not speak the national language as a first language, and terminology (jargon) must be fully explained.

The training provided should include physical hazards such as suitable and unsuitable clothing for the work place (loose sleeves, long loose clothes may catch on machinery), the correct use of any safety equipment and recommended techniques for the operation of equipment. The later should include training in posture for operation. Other training should instruct in work practices such as maximum duration between rest periods, any routines that need to be followed and especially what to do in disaster or emergency situations. After training is performed staff should be monitored to ensure that the training was not only provided but has been effective and that staff are conforming to the safe practices.

Ergonomics

In assessing the risks that a task may present the following guidelines may be useful:

  • Observe how work is performed, watch the employees movements. The worker should not have to make any sudden, jerky or hard to control movements, or do anything which causes them discomfort or pain. The workplace should be designed so the task can be performed without the employee working in an awkward position.
  • Observe the working posture and position people adopt in carrying out the task. Ensure that, where possible, work activities are varied. This will prevent the worker having to hold the same posture or position for a long period. Design work place arrangements so that workers are not required to bend over or twist around frequently to perform their job.
  • Observe the duration, frequency, and forces involved in manual handling tasks. The risk of injury increases when manual handling tasks are done with higher frequency, higher forces, and over longer periods. It is worth noting that sometimes a large amount of force produces little or no movement.
  • Observe where the load is and how far it has to be moved. There is an increased risk whenever the load is below mid thigh height or above shoulder level. There is also an increased risk if a load has to be placed very accurately or carried over a long distance.

Equipment

Consider the design and age of the equipment. Old equipment, as is often used in Archives, will have been designed in an era when less emphasis was placed on worker safety.

Unshielded drive belts and gears were common practice, the rational of the time being that this allowed faster maintenance. However this greatly increases the risk of a worker becoming caught up and injured.

The same applies to electrical wiring, older equipment often had unshielded cabling which was seen as a cost saving in manufacture. Even if the wiring is shielded the types of material used may no longer meet safety codes or may have deteriorated over the years.

Often over the years modifications may have been carried out to adapt the equipment to suit one purpose or another. Any modifications should be checked to ensure that the equipment still conforms to safety codes. This should happen routinely as the codes are frequently updated.

And equipment should be checked for noise hazards. Typical daily noise doses are applied to specific industries. People employed in heavy industry will readily recognise the need for protection to preserve their hearing. However people working in seemingly non-industrial area may not recognise the presence of a hearing risk in their environment. For example, when checking the noise level in the SSA Printing and Processing Laboratory the results showed that the laboratory had the same noise level as a medium industrial environment and that hearing protection was required to perform some tasks. The issue of noise will be covered in more detail later.

Environment

Observe the work environment. Layout of workspaces, in particular obstructions that do not permit easy passage, can cause physical injury in terms of impact damage and less obvious strains.

Ensure that staff are not cramped and they have sufficient room to perform the tasks required of them. To overcome cramped conditions workers will often adopt a posture that increases the static load on their limbs and this can lead to injury.
Floor surfaces should be treated so that under all normal circumstances the surface is not slippery. Areas that are frequently wet should be made of non-slip materials or have an effective non-slip surface treatment applied.

All the materials used in constructing the work area should also prevent the build up of static electricity. A static discharge may not seem much of an injury but it may induce an accident with another piece of equipment and will certainly distract the worker from the task at hand.

Specific standards are published for the amount of light required on work surfaces. The amount of light required will vary depending on the type of work and tasks carried out.

Ventilation

Workplace ventilation is extremely important in creating a safe working environment. Standards exist for the number of complete air changes that are required per hour in the work space. The number of changes per hour varies depending on the type of work area. Laboratories are higher than office/clerical areas.

Some tasks require greatly increased ventilation, for example; examining decomposing films exposes the worker to relatively high concentrations of chemicals that are known to create health concerns. Under these conditions special equipment to extract the chemicals should be provided. This equipment may be anything from a fan pointed out the window and drawing air across the work area (not recommended!) to a purpose built fume cupboard.

A difficulty often arises in that Archives are often housed in 'available’ accommodation where the ventilation may be inadequate. This can even be a problem where fume extraction is used as the ventilation system may not be able to provide sufficient air to the room to allow the fume extraction to work effectively. Although potentially suitable equipment may have been installed, the system as a whole may not meet standards. In ventilation engineering there seems to be a fine balance between a system working to specifications and failing.

Exposure

The length of time a worker is exposed to a hazard greatly influences the degree of risk involved. Exposure can be the frequency of a task such as winding a film as well as the concentration of a chemical in the work environment.

Exposure can be expressed as the product of two factors, time and intensity. An injury can be the result of a cumulative low level of exposure over a long period of time or a high level of exposure over a short period of time. Examples of these might be an incorrect posture for several months causing a back injury or lifting a heavy object causing a sprain.

The use of and exposure to chemicals can be a highly emotive issue and assessment of the risks presented will be discussed later in this module. Individual Legislation in some countries or states may incorporate interactive factors of an employees physical condition. In job design factors such as; fitness, health, strength, size, training or aptitude, personality, age and gender of staff may be needed to be taken into account. Bias or discrimination of staff based on these factors may render the employer liable to litigation.