The International Labour Association (ILO) contextualises Occupational Health and Safety as being a core labour right as indicated in the following diagram.
People often use the term Occupational Safety, Health and Environment but what does it actually mean? As with most terminology associated with “Safety” there is an explicit meaning.
The one critical term that has not been addressed so far is “Environment”, which triggers a meaning of: “the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity”. This perfectly true, but what about the alternative meaning: “the immediate surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates”?
For the discussions to follow, focus your mind to think of environment as the air that you breathe, the things which you touch, the facilities which you use, and everything in your direct surroundings that may threaten your safety or health!
In order to explain the various fundamental issues, the term “risk” must also be clarified. According to a dictionary risk is defined as a “situation involving exposure to danger”.
Avoiding risks thus means: Protection against the dangers presented by a certain environment, and the strategies, tools and techniques required to mitigate such risks.
Risk controls may include:
Some control measures are more effective than others are. Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.
This means removing the hazard or hazardous work practice from the workplace. This is the most effective control measure and must always be considered before anything else.
If eliminating the risk is not reasonably practicable, you could consider using substitution, isolation or engineering controls, or a combination of these control measures to minimise the risk.
Engineering controls are physical control measures to minimise risk, for example controlling the shutdown of a machine mechanically. A Deadman Switch (automatic shutdown switch) is an example of an engineered control mechanism.
If a risk remains, the duty holder must minimise the remaining risk, so far as is reasonably practicable by using:
Administrative controls should only be considered when other higher order control measures are not reasonably practicable, or to increase protection from the hazard. These are work methods or procedures designed to minimise the exposure to a hazard, for example job rotation and varying tasks to reduce the risks associated with prolonged periods of exposure to hazards associated with a task.
Any remaining risk must be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable, by providing and ensuring the use of:
PPE is the lowest order control measure in the hierarchy of controls. PPE should also only be considered when other higher order control measures are not reasonably practicable or to increase protection from the hazard. Examples of PPE include using safety eyewear, hearing protection, safety helmets, cut-resistant leg protection or reflective, high-visibility clothing.
Combining control measures
In most cases a combination of the control measures will provide the best solution to minimise the risk to the lowest level reasonably practicable. You should check that your chosen control measures do not introduce new hazards.
Maintaining and reviewing control measures
The control measures implemented to protect health and safety should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective including when there is a change at the workplace. If a control measure is not working effectively it must be revised to ensure it is effective to control the risk.
For example, control measures should be reviewed:
Control measures should be reviewed in consultation with workers and their health and safety representatives. Workers are often able to quickly identify and propose solutions to problems when they occur.
Control measures should be checked by using the same methods as the initial hazard identification and risk assessment. If a hazard is not eliminated or minimised by the chosen control measure, go back through the risk management steps, review the information and make further decisions about risk control.
Every effort should be made to prevent or control the release of injurious or harmful substances or material into the working environment. This may be achieved through the improved design of plant and equipment, buildings and work areas or by work procedures and controls which eliminate the need for persons to enter or remain within barricaded work areas when equipment is operating.
If efforts to prevent or control hazards at the source are unsuccessful, appropriate personal protective equipment must be provided and worn by equipment operators and any other persons who may be near the work areas.
In terms of effectiveness, the risk control mechanisms are illustrated as follows:
The fundamental issues pertaining to occupational safety in the workplace include:
Let us explore these further.