So you’ve been invited to a Risk Assessment? Not sure why you’ve been invited or what is going to happen there? Not sure how you can best contribute? Here’s Mining Man’s four tips on what to expect in a team risk assessment session, including the terminology you might hear, how the process might work, and how you can best contribute.
If you’ve been asked (or told) to attend a “Risk Assessment” but have never participated in one before, it’s likely that you’re a little unsure about exactly what is involved and why you’re being asked to contribute.
Risk assessments have become an extremely common tool used in the mining industry to look at work procedures, pieces of equipment, plant setups, new practices or system and basically anything else you can think of in a mining operation. Risk assessments are typically carried out whenever there is something new or something has changed.
There are a range of different risk assessments we perform on a mine site, from an on-the-job hazard assessment (like we talked about in this article), through to a team talk before a job starts, right up to a full, formal, documented risk assessment. It is this final formal type that we are focussing on today – the type where you will receive an invitation to attend a session lasting from a few hours to a few days.
What to Expect
A formal risk assessment usually involves a team of people working through a structured process that involves the following steps (you can find definitions of some of the key terms later in this article):
- Defining the task steps or areas of focus
- Identifying hazards in each area
- Assessing the risk associated with each hazard
- Deciding what further controls are needed
A facilitator will run the session, and his job is to help everyone understand the process and tools that will be used, and to keeps everyone on track. The facilitator will explain the process at the start of the session, but there is a lot of value in just waiting to see how the process works by actually watching as it gets underway.
The team will be between four people up to 10-15 if necessary. The team will include people from all over the mine site with all sorts of different jobs and experience.
Many parts of the risk assessment process involve the group “brainstorming” and discussing ideas. It is important that everyone gets a chance to have their say, and that all ideas are captured, so make sure you throw in your ideas at each stage of the process. The entire process is based on the groups’ opinions, consensus and (wherever possible) agreement. You won’t be required to do anything by yourself, but the team only works when everyone contributes!
Why You’ve been Invited
When carrying out a risk assessment, it is vital that a wide range of people attend and have their input. Different people have different experiences and are also going to be doing different roles relating to whatever it is you are carrying out the risk assessment on. It is very important that a range of people from different roles are represented in the risk assessment team – so you should find yourself in the session with some people you don’t usually work with, and some people you do. It’s the range of views and opinions that makes the risk assessment process so thorough and worthwhile.
So you will have been invited because you bring a unique viewpoint or experience to the team which is necessary to make sure the process and outcomes are thorough. You’re a key member and the team can’t do it without you!
Terminology you will hear
Hazard – a situation or energy source with the potential to hurt someone or have a negative impact on the environment or the business
Risk – a combination of the likelihood of a hazard causing a negative outcome and the consequence if this hazard does occur. Usually has a classification such as low, medium, high, or a numerical ranking
Likelihood – how likely it is that a hazard will turn into something negative (i.e. the probability of an accident resulting from the particular hazard)
Consequence – the negative impact that could result from a hazard (i.e. the injury that might result)
Risk Matrix – a table on which we look up the likelihood and the consequence of a hazard to find out what risk level the hazard has. Each individual mining company will have a different matrix, but it might look something like the one at the end of this article. You’ll be given the one for your company at the session.
Acceptable Risk – each company will define the level of risk which they consider acceptable. We can’t remove all risk, so we need to define what we will accept. This should be shown on the company’s risk matrix. We are always trying to reduce the risk to below this level, but this is the maximum we can accept.
ALARA / ALARP – As Low As Reasonably Achievable or As Low As Reasonably Practical. This is our aim, to get our risk levels down as low as we reasonably can. We can’t reduce the risks to zero, but we need to do as much as we reasonably and practically can to reduce them.
Controls – the things we do to lower a risk or prevent a hazard becoming an injury (i.e. PPE, guarding, procedures, training)
Actions – The controls we decide are important to manage risks are not worth anything unless they are actually put into action. An important step in the risk assessment is to record exactly who will take action on the controls, what they will do, and when they will do it by.
Residual Risk – Once we have done all we can to reduce the risk on a particular hazard to ALARA or ALARP, there will still be some risk there (we can rarely get it down to no risk without eliminating the job all together). The amount of risk that remains after we’ve put our controls in place is called the residual risk.
How to Contribute
My best advice is to go into the process (like you should with anything you are new to) with an open mind and take the time at the start of the day to see how things work and understand the process. Risk assessments are an extremely powerful tool for improving safety and operations when they are done well and when the team works together with good discussions and everyone contributing.
Risk assessments are a chance to influence safety for a long time to come, and should be seen as a forum for doing that.
For each topic area that the team is looking at, just work through the following five questions over and over:
What could go wrong?
What would happen if it did go wrong?
How likely is it to go wrong?
What can we do to reduce the chance of it going wrong?
What can we do to reduce the impacts if something does go wrong?
This is the general pattern of all risk assessments (in very simple terms). We use a structured process, a highly paid facilitator, and a big table for recording and the results – but in general it is the five steps about that we follow over and over to make sure we’ve covered every hazard.
Make sure you are thinking about things that could realistically happen, while also keeping in mind and discussing with the group any extreme outcomes that might be very unlikely. A good risk assessment team will consider things which could easily happen but the outcome is not too severe (i.e. a first aid treatment), as well as things with serious outcomes but which are unlikely to happen (i.e. a slip or trip resulting in a fatality).
Risk assessments are an extremely valuable tool for managing safety across all areas of the mining process. But their success depends on the team involved being proactive, thoughtful, and committed to finding practical solutions to the hazards which they uncover.
Go into the session armed with the tips above and an attitude of wanting to make a different to safety, and you should find the day interesting, challenging and enjoyable.
All the best, have a safe and productive week.
- Jamie Ross
Mining Man – Leadership, Safety, Productivity and Financial Advice