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How to conduct a risk assessment

July 11, 2014

It is important for healthcare employers to conduct efficient and reliable risk assessments for all areas of their work. This not only means that workers are kept safe, but also ensures that the establishment complies with legislation and the legal responsibilities of employers.

Preparation is key to making sure that all bases are covered and that each party knows what is needed of them from a risk assessment. This may be time consuming but means that in the long-term time and money can be saved as a comprehensive protocol will be in place to protect the health and safety of staff members.

Action Plan 
Broadly speaking, a risk assessment asks four questions: how dangerous is the situation, is there a need for action, how often coud an accident occur and what can go wrong? It is recommended that an action plan is constructed to ensure the risk assessment answers all these questions about potential hazards in the workplace. You should also install practices or safety equipment that can control, minimise or eliminate this danger.

An action plan should include the commissioning, organising and coordinating of the assessment and who the person carrying it out will be. It's also important to ensure that both employers and employees understand what their responsibility will be during the risk assessment.

Hazards and Risks
The risk assessment itself should look at both hazards and risks, with a hazard being the situation that could potentially cause harm, and the risk being defined as the probability that this will occur during a specific period of time or as the result of a certain situation.

Overall risk is a combination of the likelihood and consequence of a hazard harming a healthcare employer, while clinical risk is the chance of an adverse outcome resulting from clinical investigation, treatment or patient care.

For each hazard identified, it is important to decide whether it is significant or appropriate, and whether sufficient controls are in place to ensure that the risk is properly controlled.

Step 1: Identify the hazards 
In order to prevent harm to healthcare workers it is important to understand what is likely to go wrong and why this might happen. This should be based on any relevant information available and should definitely take into consideration past incidents or near misses. 

Step 2: Identify who is at risk
Human error is one of the biggest threats to the safe running of any organisation, especially when workers are around potentially dangerous equipment or substances. For the risk assessment, it is necessary to anticipate some degree of human error and try to prevent this from resulting in harm.

For example, when trying to identify a person's risk of suffering a needlestick injury, having safety devices in use will substantially reduce the danger. This is further helped if the equipment in use relies on an active safety mechanism, rather than a passive one as these do not rely on activation and therefore minimise the human error risk.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks
The risk assessment should consider how bad a consequence of the hazard would be and how often it is likely to happen. This would also include whether there would be any need for additional action as the law requires employers to take measures to reduce the danger staff are exposed to.

Step 4: Record your findings and proposed action 
It is important to be able to prove that, as an employer, you have taken all necessary steps and precautions to minimise the risk healthcare workers are exposed to. This means documenting and safely filing everything that is discovered, proposed or decided. It should also ensure that all proposed solutions are realistic and the remaining risk is acceptable.

Step 5: Review 
Reviewing decisions, procedures and protocol is important to ensure the organisation stays in line with the latest recommendations and guidelines, and is minimising whatever risks workers are exposed to during their day-to-day tasks at work.

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