Risk assessments involve identifying problem areas that may cause harm to people or property, and finding ways to mitigate that. Risk assessments typically identify hazards to employees, as well as to the property and equipment necessary to keep production running.
Industrial Risk Assessments
Industrial risk assessments are ordinarily conducted by people with first-hand experience with the equipment and workspace under the oversight of the company health, safety and environment (HSE) organization. Assessments typically address both hazards and risks. A hazard is any substance or situation that has the potential to cause damage to property or harm to an employee. A risk is the chance or probability and severity of a negative occurrence (injury, ill-health, damage, loss) resulting from a hazard.
Risk assessments also involve planning how to eliminate identified risks by suggesting preventative or corrective measures. In cases where it is not possible to remove risk entirely, risk assessments also deal with how to reduce the probability and/or severity of the risk. Risks can be classified as low, medium, or high in terms of severity. Once hazards and risks have been identified, controls need to be put in place to mitigate the risk, the Hierarchy of Controls depicts the different actions that can be taken.
- Hierarchy of Controls (Image Source: CDC)
Types of Risk Assessments
There are numerous types of risk assessments that can be conducted. These include:
- Generic risk assessments: This is an overall safety evaluation of the workplace.
- Substance risk assessments: These are conducted within workplaces where hazardous substances are stored, used, or manufactured.
- Digital equipment risk assessments: Assessments completed in workplaces where employees are using computers, laptops, etc.
- Manual handling risk assessments: These assessments are conducted of processes where employees need to carry, lift, or move loads.
- Fire risk assessments: An evaluation of the workplace to determine fire exposure sources and to ensure that sufficient fire prevention and mitigation systems are in place.
Within industrial processes such as manufacturing, specific focus is given to equipment and processes that involve moving parts, sharp edges, loud environments, and high-temperature environments.
Using Wearables to Conduct Risk Assessments
Increasingly, companies are turning to wearable technology to improve the risk assessment process. A range of wearables is being implemented within this process, including smartwatches, smart bracelets, smart belts, and head-mounted tablets (HMTs). HMTs, such as the RealWear Navigator™ 500, can improve the speed and accuracy of risk assessments in a number of ways:
HMTs come with cameras, and can stream video feeds to employees at remote locations in real-time. This means an inspector could conduct a risk assessment remotely. This could be valuable in situations where the inspector would have to travel to multiple locations for the assessments. A local employee could walk around wearing the HMT, and the expert viewing through the camera, conducting the assessment remotely.
Immediate Escalation of Issues to an Expert
If the assessor comes across an issue needing immediate attention, they can remotely call in an expert (on the equipment or process) and get their advice. The expert can view the issue in real-time through the headset camera and offer advice on whether more drastic measures such as evacuation is necessary.
- Worker conducting an inspection using a RealWear device (Image Source: RealWear)
More Comprehensive Data Capture
Video can be captured of every step of the risk assessment process in order to keep a comprehensive record of the assessment. A standard workflow can also be built using a custom application that the assessor must follow. This can help ensure there are no errors or omissions during the process and that no potential risks are missed.
A Hands-Free and Voice-Controlled Process
If a risk assessment is being conducted in an industrial setting, it’s safe to assume potential hazards would be present. Because of this, the person conducting the assessment cannot be distracted. Voice-controlled applications allow for employees to capture data while keeping their hands free and line of sight unobstructed.
Risk assessments are an integral part of industrial companies maintaining a safe workplace. These assessments must be done with care as record-keeping is essential. Using wearables such as head-mounted tablets empowers the company and employees to conduct safer, more efficient, more thorough, and more cost-effective risk assessments.