If you went to the Regulations area of the OSHA web site today, and did a search for the term "Risk Assessment", you would get 290 hits. That is 290 documents within which you would find a reference to this term. I do not know for sure, but feel relatively confident that there was not nearly this number just 15 years ago. Many of the regulations that include this reference are written for chemical use and processing. But the requirements for and usefulness of risk assessment go much further.
Much has been written on the subject over the past decade. Most of what I have read is about how to apply risk assessment to a particular process, machine or procedure. These articles talk about the procedure to follow when identifying hazards associated with processes, machines or procedures. They usually consist of some type of survey followed by a recording or listing of the identified hazards. It is a common recommendation that this information be provided to the individuals involved in the operation of a process, or in the use of a machine, or the performance of a procedure. The assumption is that with knowledge of associated hazards, individuals will be better able to avoid occurrences that could result in injury. I have read other articles that center on the benefits that an organization can realize when it incorporates some form of hazard control methodology into their daily operations.
There are several problems with what I have just described. First, if you didn't catch my slight of hand, I shifted the subject from risk to hazard. This is important because the difference between risk and hazard is significant and, if misunderstood, can seriously minimize the effectiveness of a program. Second, the program is not Risk Assessment; it is Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction. Risk Reduction is not simply telling individuals about discovered hazards.
The schedule for educational sessions during this conference includes seven other sessions with the term risk or assessment or hazard included in the title. They all address assessment or management of risk to specific applications. This session will focus on the methodology of Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction. I will talk about the methodology as it applies to design and use of processes, machines or procedures. I will try to illustrate how you can utilize Risk Assessment/Risk Reduction to control the risk on products you purchased last week or 20 years ago. You will hear how to use it on future purchases.
If you are wondering about something I said earlier, some definitions may help:
Hazard - danger (Webster's); a potential source of harm (ANSI B11TR3)
Risk - the chance of injury (Webster's); a combination of the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm (ANSI B11TR3).