Abstract

Traditionally, an occupational health risk assessment is conducted by the occupational health (OH) subject-matter-expert (SME) separately from a safety risk assessment which is often conducted by the safety SME. Occupational health risks are often not assessed in-depth in the safety, health, and environment (SHE) risk assessment, which is normally led by safety SME. One of the reasons could be that the methodology is not well defined to align the OH risks with safety risks on a common basis in the risk assessment. This is understandable as OH risk assessments are based on "what-is" exposure assessment whereas the safety risk assessments are based on "what if" scenario of probability of safety incident occurring. A common risk assessment matrix for assessing both OH and safety risks with prioritized SHE risks will enable the line management to manage these risks better.

This paper describes how the safety risk matrix's methodology is enhanced by integrating occupational health into the matrix. It also describes the experience and challenges in using the proposed SHE risk assessment matrix.

Introduction

Traditionally, an occupational health risk assessment is often conducted separately from a safety risk assessment. Even in the SHE risk assessment, occupational health is often not effectively assessed. To understand the issues, let us briefly look at the differences between safety and occupational health in a risk assessment.

Safety looks at hazards that exist randomly and in short term in the workplace and attempts to anticipate random events and impose controls to reduce its frequency with prior allocation of resources to reduce the losses. Examples of safety hazards are electric shock, oxygen deficiency, slipping, falling, and chemical burns. A safety risk assessment is a what-if scenario-based assessment that focuses on acute (immediate) hazards.

Occupational health looks at hazards that are present more or less continuously in the workplace by measuring or evaluating worker exposures to the hazards and instituting control measurs to reduce the exposures to the acceptable exposure standards. Examples of occupational health hazards are:

  • Biological e.g. legionnella, viruses, bacteria

  • Physical e.g. noise, radiation, heat stress

  • Chemical e.g. benzene, asbestos, leaded paints

An occupational health risk assessment is a "what-is" assessment that focuses on chronic (long-term) hazards.

A risk assessment is incomplete without addressing both acute and chronic hazards. As such, occupational health risks should be addressed together with safety risks in a risk assessment.

In existing practices, as mentioned, occupational health is not effectively covered in the SHE risk assessment. This may be due to the different approach in the assessment of occupational health and safety risks. A what-if scenario-based assessment is often used to assess safety risks whereas a what-is exposure assessment is often used to assess the occupational health risks.

Why integrate OH?

There are many incentives to have a common SHE risk matrix that has occupational health risk assessment included such as:

  • It enables line management to prioritize and manage health risks on a common basis with other SHE risks.

  • A better "buy-in" of OH program by the line management.

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