Health and Safety

Tinus Boshoff


HIRA methodology

There are no fixed rules about how the risk assessment should be under taken. The following steps could be used as guidance.


Step 1: Initiating the HIRA and selecting the approach

Two principles should be taken in consideration before an assessment is carried out:

  • Structure the assessment to ensure that all relevant hazards and risks are addressed. This should be done to ensure that tasks like night security that might take place ‘‘out’’ of working hours, is not overlooked.
  • When a hazard is identified, the first option should always be to eliminate it first.


A number of approaches (and combinations thereof) to risk assessment can be adopted to perform the HIRA.


The approaches to risk assessment at work which are used are normally based upon:


  • Observation of the workplace environment (e.g. means of access, conditions of floors; machinery safety; dust and fumes, temperature, lighting; noise; etc.)
  • Identification of tasks carried out at the workplace (to identify all tasks so that they are all included in risk assessment).
  • Consideration of tasks carried out at the workplace (evaluation of risks from the different tasks).
  • Observation of work in progress (check that procedures are as laid down or predicted, and that there are no other risks arising).
  • Consideration of patterns of work (to access exposure to hazards).
  • Consideration of external factors that could affect the workplace (e.g. weather consideration for outdoor workers).
  • Review of psychological, social and physical factors which might contribute to stress at work, how they interact together and with other factors in the workplace organization and environment.
  • Consideration of organization to maintain conditions, including safeguards (e.g. that systems are in place to assess risks from new plant, materials and so on to update information on risks).


After the selection of the desired HIRA approach, the following information should be completed by the above mentioned assessor(s).


  • Date: Insert date that assessment form is completed.       The assessment must be valid on that day, and subsequent days, unless circumstances change and amendments are necessary.

  • Assessed by: Insert the name, designation and signature of the assessor or in the case of a team the names, designations and signatures of all the team members.


  • Checked by: Insert the name and signature of someone in a position to check that the assessment has been carried out by a competent person who can identify hazards and assess risk, and that the control measures are reasonable and in place. The checker will normally be a line manager, supervisor, principal investigator, etc. Checking will be appropriate for most risk assessments.


  • Validated by: Use this for higher risk scenarios, e.g.- where complex calculations have to be validated by another “independent” person who is competent to do so, or where the control measure is a strict permit-to-work procedure requiring thorough preparation of a workplace.       The validator should also be a competent engineer or professional with expertise in the task being considered. Examples of where validation is required include designs for pressure vessels, load-bearing equipment, lifting equipment carrying personnel or items over populated areas, and similar situations.


  • Location: Insert details of the exact location, e.g. building, floor, room or laboratory etc.


  • Task / premises: Insert a brief summary of the task, e.g. typical office activities such as filing, DSE work, lifting and moving small objects, use of misc electrical equipment.       Or, research project [title] involving the use of typical laboratory hardware, including fume cupboards, hot plates, ovens, analysis equipment, flammable solvents, etc.


  • Activity: use the column to describe each separate activity covered by the assessment. The number of rows is unlimited, although how many are used for one assessment will depend on how the task / premises is sub-divided.   For laboratory work, activities in one particular lab or for one particular project might include; use of gas cylinders, use of fume cupboard, use of computer or other electrical equipment, use of lab ovens, hot plates or heaters, use of substances hazardous to health, etc


  • Hazard: for each activity, list the hazards.


Step 2: Identify the hazards

The importance of this element cannot be over emphasised. It is by far the most important element of the risk assessment process and should be performed in a systematic manner.


Gathering and analysis of information before the assessment


The gathering and analysis of information is an essential task before the risk assessment can start. This would normally be conducted by the safety practitioner or person responsible for health and safety and it is one of his more important duties.

The person should access the databases on the business to assess the types and major underlying causes of past accidents and incidents. It is advisable to also review accident reports and investigations together with other records such as those maintained by engineering staff, log books and audit reports.

Externally, he or she may be able to gather information from government and industry organisations or from publications and databases.

During the phycical assessment or after the assessment


The adoption of some systematic way of allowing relevant persons to ‘'see'’ or ‘‘spot’’ the hazards present in the workplace.


If the hazard identification is not carried out carefully, the subsequent analysis of risk and the development of risk control measures become pointless. The identification of hazards is not only an essential part of the risk assessment process, but also acts very effectively to change the way people think, causing them to act more safely and so become more proactive in hazard awareness. When you work in a place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards. There are many techniques and tools that can be used as part of the hazard identification process, here are some tips to help you identify the ones that matter:


  • Observation - walk around your workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm.
  • Communication - ask your employees what they think. They may have noticed things that are not immediately obvious to you.
  • Information - check ‘‘manufacturers’’ instructions or MSDS for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards and putting them in their true perspective.
  • Records - Have a look at your incident and sickness records – these often help to identify the less obvious hazards.
  • Visit relevant Websites to gain information. Increasingly, the internet is a valuable means of gathering international data. All this data needs to be assimilated and converted into a useful format to prepare the team who undertakes risk assessment.
  • Calling legal your labour inspector at the labour centre.
  • Consultation with the workplace health and safety committee and representatives.
  • Brainstorm ideas and group under appropriate risk headings. Consider the effects on people (staff, students and other people), information, physical assets and finances, reputation. Write the final list onto the table (risk assessment summary).
  • Data from health surveillance programme.
  • Consulting with subject matter experts or consultants.
  • SABS codes and standards.
  • Minimum standard legislation.
  • Analyse specific scenarios, this is mostly a preventative method used for the identification of hazards and is performed by stating or picturing certain possibilities or scenarios and then breaking it down, examining and studying the possibly outcome of the event or activity.

Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (e.g. high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances) as well as safety hazards.


Step 3: Identify all parties affected by the hazard and determine how they can be affected                               

Next you need to identify who might be harmed; it will help you identify the best way of managing the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people (e.g. people working in the storeroom or kitchen). In each case, identify how they might be harmed, e.g. what type of injury or ill health might occur.


Pay particular attention to vulnerable people.




  • Some workers might be more vulnerable like new and young workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities, lone workers.
  • Cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers etc, who may not be in the workplace all the time.
  • Members of the public, if they could be hurt by your activities.
  • If you share your workplace, you will need to think about how your work affects others present.
  • As well as how their work affects your staff – talk to them; and ask your staff if they can think of anyone you may have missed.


Identify groups or people who may be affected.


Examples of people at risk



Temporary workers

Security personal

Shift workers








Members of the public

Relief workers


Examples of vulnerable people:

New or expectant mothers

Lone workers

Employees, customers or visitors with disabilities


Young people

Non-English speakers

Inexperienced workers



If the risk assessment is job-specific, use the individual's job title, not their name.


Step 4: Evaluate or assess the risk

Having identified the hazards, you then have to decide what to do about them. Legislation requires you to do everything ‘‘reasonably practicable’’ to protect people from harm.


Risk rating


One of the most simplistic forms of risk assessment is to rate the remaining risk as high, medium or low, depending on how likely the activity is to cause harm and how serious that harm might be. This is called ‘‘Risk rating’’.


Level of risk

  1. Low risk items

Need to be considered, but there is a smaller chance that they will cause the entire project to go off the rails. It is most unlikely that harm would arise under the controlled conditions listed, and even if exposure occurred, the injury would be relatively slight.

  1. Medium risk items

These types of risks are ones that could cause issues, but that there is still a lower chance that they will cause your project to fail. It is more likely that harm might actually occur and the outcome could be more serious (e.g. some time off work, or a minor physical injury).

  1. High risk items

These are the risks that take the highest priority. They can cause your project to fail, and you need to plan for these risks ahead of time. If injury is likely to arise (e.g. there have been previous incidents, the situation looks like an accident waiting to happen) and that injury might be serious (broken bones, trip to the hospital, loss of consciousness), or even a fatality.

Risk ranking matrix


In order to do a ‘‘risk rating’’, we normally make use of a matrix scoring system. Numerical scores are given to the different elements (e.g. consequence, exposure, likelihood) of risks and these scores are added or multiplied to get a rating for the risk.


For the initial risk evaluation, consider the risks identified in the worst case scenario before any controls are applied.


Example: Electricity is a hazard, it can kill but the risk of it doing so in an office environment is low providing the components are insulated, the metal casing is properly earthed and appliances are used correctly and tested regularly.


Elements of risk

  1. Consequence/ severity (How serious)

Consequences are the expected severity. The severity is expressed in terms of the effect on the person, whether injury or ill health, and ranging from minor injury to death.

Think about how serious the likely outcomes would be if harm from a hazard was realized. The risks are clearly higher if an accident is likely to result in serious injury or death, for example, than a bruise or a scratch.

  1. Probability/ Likelihood (How likely)

By evaluating the risks associated with each hazard you have identified, you're deciding how likely it is that harm will occur from the hazard. The likelihood is the probability of loss when a sub-standard act occurs or sub-standard condition exists.


The likelihood should be based on the worst case scenario, ranging from a remote possibility to the inevitable. Factors affecting the likelihood include:


  • Number of times the situation occurs
  • Location of the hazard
  • Duration of the exposure
  • Environmental conditions
  • Competence of the people involved and
  • The condition of equipment
  1. Frequency (How often)

How often is the activity involving the hazard taking place? How many people come into contact with it? Risks are higher when frequency of contact is higher.


For more information contact Tinus Boshoff [email protected]


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