Model Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks

Screenshot of Code of practiceUnderstanding your obligations under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act can be confusing. Knowing how to go about implementing any changes required to meet those obligations can be even more confusing. That’s why SafeWorkAustralia provides Codes of Practice to guide employers in understanding and complying with their WHS obligations.

A code of practice is a practical guide to achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the WHS Act. This Code (How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks) offers practical guidance to those who have duties under the WHS Act and Regulations to manage risks to health and safety. This applies to anyone conducting a business, including employers, manufacturers, importers, principal contractors and those who are self-employed. For guidance on managing the risk of specific hazards you ought to consult those specific codes of practice.

The purpose of managing health and safety risks within the workplace is clear: we all want to work in a safe and healthy workplace. For employers also, the benefits are obvious: happy, healthy workers are far more productive, not to mention the dire consequences that may result if unsafe practices are permitted in the workplace.

Effective risk management requires the cooperation and involvement of both management and employees. Fostering a workplace culture that is committed to health and safety is essential. This code is the perfect place to start to foster that culture.

Find out more in the following excerpt from the Model Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks or download the full code in PDF format:

Model Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks [1.2MB]

2. Step 1 – How to Identify Hazards

Identifying hazards in the workplace involves finding things and situations that could potentially cause harm to people. Hazards generally arise from the following aspects of work and their interaction:

  • physical work environment
  • equipment, materials and substances used
  • work tasks and how they are performed
  • work design and management

Table 1 below lists some common types of workplace hazards. Some hazards are part of the work process, such as mechanical hazards, noise or toxic properties of substances. Other hazards result from equipment or machine failures and misuse, chemical spills and structural failures.

A piece of plant, substance or a work process may have many different hazards. Each of these hazards needs to be identified. For example, a production line may have dangerous moving parts, noise, hazards associated with manual tasks and psychological hazards due to the pace of work.

Table 1: Examples of common hazards

Hazard Potential harm
Manual tasks Overexertion or repetitive movement can cause muscular strain
Gravity Falling objects, falls, slips and trips of people can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or death
Electricity Potential ignition source. Exposure to live electrical wires can cause shock, burns or death from electrocution
Machinery and equipment Being hit by moving vehicles, or being caught by moving parts of machinery can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death
Hazardous chemicals Chemicals (such as acids, hydrocarbons, heavy metals) and dusts (such as asbestos and silica) can cause respiratory illnesses, cancers or dermatitis
Extreme temperatures Heat can cause burns, heat stroke or fatigue Cold can cause hypothermia or frost bite
Noise Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing damage
Radiation Ultra violet, welding arc flashes, micro waves and lasers can cause burns, cancer or blindness
Biological Micro-organisms can cause hepatitis, legionnaires’ disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies
Psychosocial hazards Effects of work-related stress, bullying, violence and work-related fatigue

2.1 How to Find Hazards

Inspect the Workplace
Regularly walking around the workplace and observing how things are done can help you predict what could or might go wrong. Look at how people actually work, how plant and equipment is used, what chemicals are around and what they are used for, what safe or unsafe work practices exist as well as the general state of housekeeping.

Things to look out for include the following:

  • Does the work environment enable workers to carry out work without risks to health and safety (for example, space for unobstructed movement, adequate ventilation, lighting)?
  • How suitable are the tools and equipment for the task and how well are they maintained?
  • Have any changes occurred in the workplace which may affect health and safety?

Hazards are not always obvious. Some hazards can affect health over a long period of time or may result in stress (such as bullying) or fatigue (such as shiftwork). Also think about hazards that you may bring into your workplace as new, used or hired goods (for example, worn insulation on a hired welding set).

As you walk around, you may spot straightforward problems and action should be taken on these immediately, for example cleaning up a spill. If you find a situation where there is immediate or significant danger to people, move those persons to a safer location first and attend to the hazard urgently.

Make a list of all the hazards you can find, including the ones you know are already being dealt with, to ensure that nothing is missed. You may use a checklist designed to suit your workplace to help you find and make a note of hazards.

Consult Your Workers
Ask your workers about any health and safety problems they have encountered in doing their work and any near misses or incidents that have not been reported.

Worker surveys may also be undertaken to obtain information about matters such as workplace bullying, as well as muscular aches and pains that can signal potential hazards.

Review Available Information
Information and advice about hazards and risks relevant to particular industries and types of work is available from regulators, industry associations, unions, technical specialists and safety consultants.

Manufacturers and suppliers can also provide information about hazards and safety precautions for specific substances (safety data sheets), plant or processes (instruction manuals).

Analyse your records of health monitoring, workplace incidents, near misses, worker complaints, sick leave and the results of any inspections and investigations to identify hazards. If someone has been hurt doing a particular task, then a hazard exists that could hurt someone else. These incidents need to be investigated to find the hazard that caused the injury or illness.

3. Step 2 – How to Assess Risk

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of it happening. A risk assessment can help you determine:

  • how severe a risk is
  • whether any existing control measures are effective
  • what action you should take to control the risk
  • how urgently the action needs to be taken.

A risk assessment can be undertaken with varying degrees of detail depending on the type of hazards and the information, data and resources that you have available. It can be as simple as a discussion with your workers or involve specific risk analysis tools and techniques recommended by safety professionals.

3.1 When should a risk assessment be carried out?

A risk assessment should be done when:

  • there is uncertainty about how a hazard may result in injury or illness
  • the work activity involves a number of different hazards and there is a lack of understanding about how the hazards may interact with each other to produce new or greater risks
  • changes at the workplace occur that may impact on the effectiveness of control measures.

A risk assessment is mandatory under the WHS Regulations for high risk activities such as entry into confined spaces, diving work and live electrical work.

Some hazards that have exposure standards, such as noise and airborne contaminants, may require scientific testing or measurement by a competent person to accurately assess the risk and to check that the relevant exposure standard is not being exceeded (for example, by using noise meters to measure noise levels and using gas detectors to analyse oxygen levels in confined spaces).

A risk assessment is not necessary in the following situations:

  • Legislation requires some hazards or risks to be controlled in a specific way – these requirements must be complied with.
  • A code of practice or other guidance sets out a way of controlling a hazard or risk that is applicable to your situation and you choose to use the recommended controls. In these instances, the guidance can be followed.
  • There are well-known and effective controls that are in use in the particular industry, that are suited to the circumstances in your workplace. These controls can simply be implemented.

3.2 How to do a risk assessment

All hazards have the potential to cause different types and severities of harm, ranging from minor discomfort to a serious injury or death.

For example, heavy liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders can cause muscular strain when they are handled manually. However, if the cylinder is damaged causing gas to leak which is then ignited, a fire could result in serious burns. If that leak occurs in a store room or similar enclosed space, it could result in an explosion that could destroy the building and kill or injure anyone nearby. Each of the outcomes involves a different type of harm with a range of severities, and each has a different likelihood of occurrence.

Work Out How Severe the Harm Could Be?
To estimate the severity of harm that could result from each hazard you should consider the following questions:

  • What type of harm could occur (e.g. muscular strain, fatigue, burns, laceration)? How severe is the harm? Could the hazard cause death, serious injuries, illness or only minor injuries requiring first aid?
  • What factors could influence the severity of harm that occurs? For example, the distance someone might fall or the concentration of a particular substance will determine the level of harm that is possible. The harm may occur immediately something goes wrong (e.g. injury from a fall) or it may take time for it to become apparent (e.g. illness from long-term exposure to a substance).
  • How many people are exposed to the hazard and how many could be harmed in and outside your workplace? For example, a mobile crane collapse on a busy construction site has the potential to kill or injure a large number of people.
  • Could one failure lead to other failures? For example, could the failure of your electrical supply make any control measures that rely on electricity ineffective?
  • Could a small event escalate to a much larger event with more serious consequences? For example, a minor fire can get out of control quickly in the presence of large amounts of combustible materials.

Work Out How Hazards May Cause Harm
In most cases, incidents occur as a result of a chain of events and a failure of one or more links in that chain. If one or more of the events can be stopped or changed, the risk may be eliminated or reduced.

One way of working out the chain of events is to determine the starting point where things begin to go wrong and then consider: ‘If this happens, what may happen next?’ This will provide a list of events that sooner or later cause harm. See the case study in Appendix A.

In thinking about how each hazard may cause harm, you should consider:

  • the effectiveness of existing control measures and whether they control all types of harm,
  • how work is actually done, rather than relying on written manuals and procedures
  • infrequent or abnormal situations, as well as how things are normally meant to occur.

Consider maintenance and cleaning, as well as breakdowns of equipment and failures of health and safety controls.

Work Out the Likelihood of Harm Occurring
The likelihood that someone will be harmed can be estimated by considering the following:

  • How often is the task done? Does this make the harm more or less likely?
  • How often are people near the hazard? How close do people get to it?
  • Has it ever happened before, either in your workplace or somewhere else? How often?

Table 2 contains further questions that can help you estimate likelihood.

You can rate the likelihood as one of the following:

  • Certain to occur – expected to occur in most circumstances
  • Very likely – will probably occur in most circumstances
  • Possible – might occur occasionally
  • Unlikely – could happen at some time
  • Rare – may happen only in exceptional circumstances

The level of risk will increase as the likelihood of harm and its severity increases.

Table 2
Questions to ask in determining likelihood Explanation and examples
How often are people exposed to the hazard? A hazard may exist all of the time or it may only exist occasionally. The more often a hazard is present, the greater the likelihood it will result in harm. For example: 

  • Meshing gears in an enclosed gearbox can cause crushing only if the gearbox is open during maintenance, and therefore the potential for harm will not occur very often.
  • Continuously lifting heavy boxes has the potential to cause harm whenever the work is done.
How long might people be exposed to the hazard?  The longer that someone is exposed to a hazard, the greater the likelihood that harm may result.For example: The longer a person is exposed to noisy work, the more likely it is that they will suffer hearing loss.
How effective are current controls in reducing risk? In most cases the risks being assessed will already be subject to some control measures. The likelihood of harm resulting from the risk will depend upon how adequate and effective the current measures are.For example: Traffic management controls have been implemented in a warehouse to separate moving forklifts from pedestrians by using signs and painted lines on the floor. These controls may need to be upgraded to include physical barriers.
Could any changes in your organisation increase the likelihood? The demand for goods or services in many organisations varies throughout the year. Changes in demand may be seasonal, depend on environmental conditions or be affected by market fluctuations that are driven by a range of events. Meeting increased demand may cause unusual loads on people, plant and equipment and systems of work. Failures may be more likely.For example: Inner city restaurants and bistros are very busy in the period prior to Christmas, placing extra demands on kitchen and serving staff. The increase in volume of food to be prepared and serving a larger number of patrons increases the potential for human error and the likelihood of harm.
Are hazards more likely
to cause harm because of
the working environment?
Examples of situations where the risk of injury or illness may become more likely:

  • „„Environmental conditions change. For example, work performed in high temperatures in a confined space increases the potential for mistakes because workers become fatigued more quickly; wet conditions make walkways and other things slippery.
  • „„People are required to work quickly. The rate at which work is done (e.g. number of repetitions) can overstress a person’s body or make it more likely that mistakes will be made.
  • There is insufficient light or poor ventilation.
Could the way people
act and behave affect
the likelihood of a hazard
causing harm?
The possibility that people may make mistakes, misuse items, become distracted or panic in particular situations needs to be taken into account. The effects of fatigue or stress may make it more likely that harm will occur.
Do the differences
between individuals in the
workplace make it more
likely for harm to occur?
People with disabilities may be more likely to suffer harm
if the workplace or process is not designed for their
needs.New or young workers may be more likely to suffer harm
because of inexperience.People who do not normally work at the workplace will
have less knowledge than employees who normally
work there, and may be more likely to suffer harm.
These people include contractors, visitors or members
of the public.


Image Courtesy: LadyDragonflyCC

Disclaimer – These articles are provided to supply general health, safety, and green information to people responsible for the same in their organisation. The articles are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs.