Starting down the path of conducting risk assessments can be overwhelming at first. There is much to know and learn. However, once you grasp the basic terminology and see the process demonstrated, the assessment process becomes much more straightforward. Fortunately, there are now software tools that can guide you through the process of risk assessment. Part of the challenge of risk assessment is figuring out which method to use. This presentation discusses the various methods available and provides a brief overview of the implementation challenges.
The various risk assessment methods use slightly different definitions for terms. A comparison of the definitions is provided at Appendix A. A single definition for each term would be most beneficial for companies that work across several industries. However, such a consensus has not yet been developed. As long as the safety practitioner is certain that all personnel involved are working from the same definition, the differences in the definitions are not terribly significant. However, when the safety practitioner benchmarks other companies or other industries he or she should be certain of the terminology so as to avoid potential confusion.
Getting started in risk assessments requires some basic training (see Christensen and Manuele, 1999 for more details). Although the basic procedures are quickly learned, some of the nuances can be more difficult to grasp initially. Once an organization has decided to use risk assessments to evaluate a design, the first step is to determine which method to use. There are several techniques available, some of which are discussed herein. Several will be shown in the presentation. For more details refer to Risk Assessment Benchmarks 2000: Getting started, making progress (Main, 2000) or ANSI B11 TR3.
Many methods can be conducted using basic office programs such as Excel or Access. However, there is no small effort required in setting up the analysis and formatting the results. Special software is available to guide users through the risk assessment process. Some examples of software can be found at: www.robotics.org, www.semi.org, www.sae.org and www.designsafe.com.
A team is usually formed to conduct the risk assessment because a team reduces individual biases. A team is also more likely to identify more hazards than an individual and will assess the risks more accurately. The team members should include design engineers, safety practitioners, operators or users, manufacturing, maintenance personnel and others as befits the design (e.g. legal, finance, etc). With simple designs the safety practitioner can conduct much of the assessment alone or with basic input from others.
Before the team begins an assessment, the parameters of the project should be clearly understood. These limits can be related to the equipment, the environment, uses and misuses, or particular users. Partial assessments that concentrate on certain aspects of the design or certain high risk uses are acceptable provided such limitations are documented with the assessment. A partial assessment that is later interpreted as being a shoddy complete assessment will bring trouble.