Health and safety risk assessment instruction

Instruction statement

This instruction is designed to assist in the assessment of health and safety risk and suggested controls associated with hazards identified while working throughout the University or when conducting University-related operations off-site.

Instruction steps and actions

1. Purpose of a health and safety risk assessment

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify hazards associated with a task/equipment and implement controls to reduce the risk of injury/illness.

2. Risk assessment process

Risk assessment is the process of:

  • determining the hazards to health and safety that exist for a particular task, item or work environment;
  • determining the importance of each hazard by assigning it a risk rating or risk score;
  • formulating risk control measures that are reasonably practicable to apply, that will reduce the risk rating/score to an acceptable level;
  • documenting all these matters, usually on a risk assessment form.

All risk assessments should be conducted in consultation with Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs), where available, in line with the Communication and consultation procedure [rescinded], and must also be carried out:

  • before new or altered systems of work are established
  • before new plant and equipment or regulated plant is acquired
  • before new chemicals and substances are acquired
  • before buildings are acquired or leased
  • before businesses or operational entities are established or acquired
  • when work environments are altered (for example: refurbishment or new building)
  • when new information about workplace risks become available
  • when responding to concerns raised by staff, HSRs or others at the workplace
  • when required by legislation for specific hazards.

Managers / supervisors must ensure that all reasonably foreseeable or identified hazards in their work area are risk assessed using the RMIT University Health and safety risk assessment instruction and tools.

A risk assessment must involve the people who undertake the activity, and the process must begin with consultation with others who may be involved or able to provide advice and input.

The final approval of the health and safety risk assessment rests with the supervisor.

When conducting a risk assessment there are 10 steps involved:

    1. Identify the activity and location

    2. Identify who is at risk

    3. Identify the hazards

    4. Identify the associated risks

    5. Rate the risks with existing controls

    6. Identify appropriate controls to be added

    7. Re-rate the risks

    8. Implement the risk controls

    9. Authorisation of risk assessment

    10. Review and monitor controls

3. Methodology

3.1. Identify the activity and location

The activity to be controlled must be described in full. Academic supervisors, laboratory/technical managers and relevant others should be consulted to ensure that all steps in the activity are identified. The location where the activity is taking place must also be identified. The location where the activity is taking place may influence the controls required.

3.2. Identify who is at risk

A staff/student may think that as they are conducting the work that they are the only person at risk. In a laboratory, for example, staff and students in the vicinity of that work are at risk also. On field trips other participants may be at risk, for instance in quarries, in boats, etc. The public may be at risk when monitoring traffic movements or when constructing research sites.

The impact of an activity on others influences the type of risk controls that may need to be in place.

Consider all the people who could be affected by the work e.g. staff, contractors, students, visitors, members of the community.

It may be useful to consult with other persons that could be affected by the work.

3.3. Identify the hazards

A hazard is a source of potential harm or a situation with the potential to cause harm. Hazards can arise from:

  • the workplace environment
  • the use of plant and substances
  • poor work design or practices
  • inappropriate management systems and procedures
  • human behaviour
  • emergency situations

Numerous methods and sources of information can be used to identify hazards associated with the activity:

  • talk to supervisors about the substances and methods you may be using
  • information from manufacturers of plant and equipment
  • information from suppliers of chemicals, e.g. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s)
  • Australian Standards
  • National, State and Industry Codes of Practice
  • Local workplace inspection reports
  • Incident data for the local area
  • Inspection and Testing Reports

3.4. Identify associated risk

Risk identification is a similar process to hazard identification except that you need to identify the harm that can be caused. For example, a hazard identified might be chemicals, however the risk would be a burn due to the chemical being used.

3.5. Identify the risk rating

Rating the risk helps to prioritise the implementation of control measures e.g. if an assessment identifies a trip hazard as low and a fire hazard as very high, then controlling the fire hazard is the priority. To identify the risk rating: consider what the consequences, exposure and probability would be.


When estimating the consequences of harm from each hazard consider:

  • what type of harm will occur (e.g. strain, laceration, burn, amputation, death)
  • how many people are exposed (e.g. a crane collapse on a busy road will be more severe than a collapse in a remote location due to the number of people who could be harmed)
  • could one failure lead to another (e.g. failure of electrical supply will stop local exhaust ventilation)
  • could it escalate to a more serious event (e.g. a small fire could get out of control in an area where there is a lot of combustible material)


When estimating the exposure of harm occurring consider:

  • how often is there exposure (e.g. once a day/once a month)
  • how long are people exposed to the hazard (e.g. 5 minutes or several hours)
  • how close are people to the hazard (e.g. there may be a moving part but people don’t go near it)
  • could any changes increase the likelihood (e.g. deadlines causing people to rush)
  • does the environment affect the hazard (e.g. very poor lighting)
  • what are the behaviours or attitudes of the people exposed (e.g. young people may be less risk-aware, or shift-workers may be fatigued)
  • how effective are current control measures


When estimating the probability consider:

  • the likelihood that the consequence will occur once the individual is exposed;
  • has it caused an injury in the past, at RMIT or elsewhere;

Once you have determined the consequence, exposure and probability calculate the risk score which will then determine if the risk is low, moderate, substantial, high or very high. The activity must not continue if the risk rating is substantial or above. In this case appropriate additional risk controls must be put in place to reduce the risk.

3.6. Identify appropriate controls to be added

To identify what control measures are needed:

    1. Check if there is legislation that has specific requirements for a control measure.

    2. Check if a Code of Practice/Compliance Code has any guidance on controlling the hazard.

    3. Check if there is a relevant Australian Standard on the topic.

    4. Check the manufacturers guidance and/or any industry standards.

    5. Check with other Schools/Work Areas and/or businesses if they have a similar hazard and how have they successfully controlled it.

    6. Ask the workers if they have any solutions to the hazards they face.

When deciding to implement control measures, you must consult with relevant employees to make sure that the controls are suitable, as employees will know the task/area best and will have to work with the control measure on a day-to-day basis.

The Hierarchy of control instruction must be used to identify the appropriate additional risk controls. The hierarchy is described as:

    1. Eliminate

    2. Reduce (Substitute/Engineer)

    3. Administrative controls

    4. Personal protective clothing and equipment

3.7. Re-rate the risk

In order to assess if the risk controls will be sufficient to reduce the risk, the activity must be re-assessed.

3.8. Implement the risk controls

The risk controls identified in this instruction need to be implemented and used. If training is required, e.g. for a bio-safety cabinet or piece of plant, then this must be done prior to using it.

3.9. Authorisation of health and safety risk assessment

All risk assessments must be authorised by the supervisor of the activity, this must be completed prior to any works commencing. In addition to the supervisor, if works are being conducted in specific work areas, such as laboratories or workshops, the manager of those spaces must also authorise the activity.

3.10. Monitor and review the risk controls

The risk controls must be working to ensure that the risks have been reduced to the lowest risk level that is reasonably practicable. A monitoring plan (e.g. Risk Register) must be in-place to ensure the risk controls are operating as designed. Refer to the Risk register instruction for further information.

A health and safety risk assessment is a “living” document. It needs to be reviewed regularly but particularly when:

  • a change of process occurs
  • a change in a workplace substance, e.g. hazardous chemical, occurs
  • an incident occurs
  • a legislative requirement changes, e.g. storage of gases or chemicals
  • a cause for concern amongst staff and students occurs

Health and Safety Risk Assessments should be reviewed every 12 months.

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