Risk control

After the hazards have been identified risks can be significantly decreased by good job design. In redesigning a job to remove or minimise the risk, evaluate the tasks against the following criteria:

  • Elimination – is the task or chemical absolutely necessary? Removing the hazard or hazardous work practice from the workplace is the most effective control measure.

  • Substitution – replace a hazard or hazardous work practice with a less hazardous one.
  • Isolation – separating the hazard or hazardous work practice from people involved in the work or people in the general work areas from the hazard. This can be done by installing screens, marking off hazardous areas or installing purpose built facilities and equipment.
  • Engineering control – if the hazard cannot be eliminated, substituted or isolated, an engineering control is the next preferred measure. This may include modifications to equipment such as providing guarding to machinery or improving ventilation.
  • Administrative control – includes introducing work practices that reduce the risk. This may be achieved by limiting the amount of time a person is exposed on a daily basis or a rotating roster that splits the task between several people.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – is the final method that should be considered and only when other control measures are not fully effective. Problems with using PPE include, workers are unwilling to wear the equipment because it is uncomfortable or impairs their ability to carry out the task and there may be high ongoing costs for consumable items.

Usually it will require more than one method to control the risk. As an example, the former film cleaning room in the printing and processing laboratory of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia had four cleaning machines in a fairly small room. The machines all used chlorinated solvents which present a significant risk to health and safety. The rooms ventilation system was capable of maintaining the level of solvent in the air close to tolerance, but there were occasions when the level would rise above tolerance. To prevent staff being exposed to occasionally unsafe levels of solvent administrative controls were also applied:

  • Staff only work in the area for short shifts
  • After the machines are loaded with films for cleaning, staff leave the actual room and monitor the machines through a window
  • When loading and unloading films from the machines PPE is worn, but this is only for a short time.

Job design

Good job design should consider a range of factors such as the physical capability and psychological needs of an employee. Good job design should take into account a number of factors, including skill variety, task significance, autonomy and feedback. This should ensure a variety of tasks for individual workers. Job enrichment and job enlargement are a means of job design.

Archives generally have a wide range of tasks that need to be performed. This can mean that an archive is in a better position to use job design to reduce risks to staff than many other industries might be.

Task design

By incorporating a variety of specified tasks a job can provide a substantial variation in movement and posture. Tasks which require sustained fixed postures, particularly where exertion is required or the use of joints towards extremes of their range of movement or highly repetitive movements for long periods, should be limited as both can cause accumulated muscle fatigue. Such periods should be interspersed with suitable movements to reduce the effects of fatigue.

Task variation and work pauses

Wherever possible, jobs should be designed so they include a mixture of repetitive and non-repetitive work in which recovery from the effects of repetitive work is possible. This also applies to tasks that involve exposure to chemicals and other physical hazards such as extended periods under temperature extremes (e.g. cold rooms). Jobs should be designed with sufficient flexibility in task demands for employees to move around and reduce the effects of fatigue by variations in task demands.

Pauses should preferably be taken away from the immediate work area and provide staff with the opportunity to change posture and rest the eyes. Exercises and alternative work should be encouraged during these periods. So staff can rest their eyes and adjust to normal fields of vision, some form of change in focus such as a window should be available. If this is not possible then some other means such as posters or pictures should be considered. It is a good practice to have eye testing for workers at the commencement of their duties, at two yearly intervals, and whenever an employee shows signs of persistent visual fatigue.