As long as I can remember, in the field of environmental, health and safety, everyone wants a template to work from – whether it’s a risk assessment template, or a potent compound safety categorization template. Unfortunately, the uniqueness and complexities of the many operations that require risk assessments make the creation of such an ‘one-size fits all” risk assessment template almost impractical.
Risk Assessment History
Since the mid to late-1940’s risk assessments have been used to evaluate the health and safety risks associated with a wide variety of activities and operations. Risk assessments were widely used for aerospace, nuclear, chemical, and military operations. For example, during the cold war, detailed risk assessments were performed for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations to prevent the inadvertent launch of an ICBM. More recently, it is common practice to perform risk assessments for oil and gas, and chemical plant operations. Risk assessments are also used by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and process potent compounds.
Benefits of Risk Assessments
The benefits of risk assessments include the following:
- Compliance with regulatory, customer, and internally derived requirements
- Adequate identification of potential risks PRIOR to the design or operation
- Early identification of the effects of engineering or operational decisions
- May aid is the design of similar operations
Do I need a risk assessment template?
In it’s most fundamental sense, risk = severity of the hazard X probability of exposure. The level of detail that you are willing to put into the evaluations of the severity and the evaluation of the probability will determine the type of risk assessment template that you will either need or develop internally.
Types of risk assessments
There are numerous types of risk assessments, ranging from the simple to the extremely complex. In order of complexity, the types of risk assessments include:
- Preliminary Hazard Analysis (PHA);
- Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP);
- Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA); and
- Fault Tree Analysis
Where to Start?
The best place to start your risk assessment is to understand the context under which the operation will take place. Ask yourself the following high-level questions:
- Is this a short-term or long-term operation?
- What will the budget be for the risk-assessment, in relation to the total cost of the project?
- Based on the history of prior operations, what is the worse-case scenario that could happen?
After you understand the context, determine the boundaries of the operation for your risk assessment. For example, you will have to determine if off-site consequences need to be determined.
Perform the Risk Assessment
Once you have determine the context and the boundaries for the risk assessment, pick the type of risk assessment template that contains the level of detail you need, then assemble your team and start the assessment. It will be important to have a wide range of skills and experiences on the team, so to ensure that you get different perspectives.