Working outdoors can come with its share of risks. Whilst many are tucked safely at home or in offices in extremes - rain, wind, snow, ice, heat - outdoor workers don’t have the luxury of protection from the elements. Many workplaces know there are dangers to their employees, but don’t know how to conduct an outdoor risk assessment. We’re here to tell you how to complete a working outdoors risk assessment.
Photo credit: jovike via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC
An outdoor risk assessment is not much different to an indoor risk assessment. However, you’ll have to consider different factors each work day, depending on the weather conditions, and the associated risks with each condition.
Controlling workplace risks
Any business health and safety plan should control any workplace risks. You’ll have to consider:
What will cause harm to employees and/or the public. Which steps you need to take to prevent harm. How can accidents happen in your workplace? What are the real risks of where you work? How does the weather exacerbate (or increase) those risks? Which risks will cause the most harm? Are there any factors that could cause illness?
A risk assessment is a legal requirement, but if you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to make any documentation regarding your health and safety policy.
An effective risk assessment doesn’t mean creating stacks of paperwork, but it does mean identifying sensible measures to control any workplace risks. Most companies already take measures to protect employees, but risk assessments are designed to cover everything you need to cover.
Some risks have associated regulations that require control measures such as PPE. An assessment can help identify where you need to look at risks in more detail.
A hazard versus a risk A hazard is something that can cause harm - chemicals, electricity, working at heights, wires trailing on the ground, an open drawer, and so forth. A risk is the chance (high or low) that someone could be harmed by these hazards, and an indication of how serious that harm could be. How to complete a working outdoors risk assessment 1. Identify the hazards
Walk around your work space and think of hazards. For outdoor work this means that, for every new location, you’ll need to identify the hazards that will cause harm. Is there uneven ground on site? Are your workers going to work on scaffolding? Is there any noise pollution? Dust particles? Are there any activities, processes, or substances in the area that could cause harm to someone?
For any non-routine operations, consider what hazards there are before accidents occur. Accidents could be costly both to you as a company - you could be heavily fined - and to your employee in lost time and - at worst - death. Consult your workforce to help you identify hazards you may not be able to identify.
2. Decide who might be harmed and how
Think how employees, visitors, or the public may be harmed by hazards. Ask your employees to help with this task because they may notice things that aren’t obvious to you or be able to come up with solutions on how to manage and control risks.
For every identified hazard, be clear about who might be harmed. You do not have to list every person by name, but identify groups (passers-by, people working on scaffolding, in the storeroom, etc.).
Consider if you have young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors, homeworkers, and lone workers and think of their risks too. For outdoor work, some of these categories may not apply - or it’d be too risky for this type of worker to work in certain conditions.
3. Evaluate the risk and determine precautions
Evaluating risks involves determining how likely harm will come to each person (or group). Decide the level of risk and what to do about it. It’s not your job to eliminate absolutely every risk, but you must know about the main risks and how you will manage them.
Do everything that is ‘reasonably practicable,’ which means balancing the risk with the control measures in terms of money, time, or trouble. No action needs to be taken if it’s disproportionate to the risk level.
You are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks; however, when working outdoors do consider what general risks can occur.
Tips to reduce risks are trying a less risky option, prevent access to hazards, organise work to reduce hazard exposure (such as extreme sun or cold), issue protective equipment, provide welfare facilities (first aid, washing), and consult and involve workers in their own safety.
4. Record any significant findings
Write down any significant findings. Note the main points and a short summation of findings. Nothing has to be in-depth.
For outdoor work - where work area changes frequently - risk assessments need to be broad in range.
Risk assessments have to be ‘suitable and sufficient.’ Your documentation should show a check was made, you asked who would be affected, you dealt with significant risks and identified and accounted for those who would be at risk (and the number of people), you made precautions to reduce the risks, and you involve your employees or their representatives in the process.
5. Review the assessment and update if necessary
Review the risks with employees to make sure you’ve covered your bases. As new changes are made or you work in new outdoor conditions - that haven’t previously been identified - update your policy when necessary.
For the most part a good health and safety policy involves identifying risks and hazards and who will be harmed, and putting safety measures in place to reduce those risks. All employees should be trained on workplace safety and know how to keep themselves safe from harm at work. Workplace accidents are costly for all involved.
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