Managing risk in the workplace

You need to identify hazards and assess the risk of harm to someone in your workplace.

To be compliant with health and safety laws, you must then take reasonable steps to limit the risk.

Know your business

What do your workers do at work? Do they sit for extended periods? Or stand? Perform manual tasks that could cause strains? Use hot liquids or poisonous chemicals? Drive heavy machinery?

One of the easiest ways to understand the safety issues in your workplace is to look at all the tasks and environments in the workplace, and the hazards and risks workers are exposed to on the job. Also, ask your workers about problems they may have encountered, like near misses, aches and pains, and anything else which may concern them about their safety.

‘Often the risk has never occurred to them because it’s how they’ve always done it or been told how to do it. And unfortunately, it’s often only when an accident does occur that the penny drops.’

Nathan McDonald

SafeWork Assistant State Inspector

Case study

A spray painter worked in a booth while listening to a portable radio. It was what he had done for years. The radio was a potential ignition source for flammable fumes but it wasn’t until a SafeWork inspector pointed out the danger that the radio was removed.


Every workplace has hazards. A ‘hazard’ is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. The best way to manage a hazard is to remove it.

It is always safer to remove a hazard completely.

If you can’t remove the hazard, then you need to manage the risk workers are exposed to.

See our Hazard library for ways to manage common hazards.


A risk of harm to someone occurs when a hazard can’t be removed from the workplace. If a hazard can’t be eliminated, the potential for injury must be minimised and the risk managed on an ongoing basis. There is a hierarchy of controls you can use to manage the risk, ranging from eliminating the hazard to using personal protective equipment (PPE). A combination of these controls often works best.

The control measure you decide upon needs to be decided upon in consultation with your workers.

Hierarchy of controls

The best solution to managing hazards is elimination followed in order by the other controls cascading from left to right.

Get rid of the hazard.

Replace the hazard with something safer – eg replace solvent-based paints with water-based ones.

Limit access by workers – eg install a guard to prevent access to moving parts of machinery.

Install engineering solutions to limit a worker’s exposure to, or difficulty with, the hazard – eg use springs to self-close gates.

Alert all workers and visitors to the danger of the hazard with appropriate signage and follow safe work procedures, provide appropriate information and training and supervision.

If the risk remains, use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimise the potential for injury – eg ear muffs, face masks, gloves, hard hats.

Review and revise risk controls

You must review your risk control measures:

  • when the control measure is not working (eg when someone is injured or experiences a ‘near miss’)
  • before workplace layout or practices are changed
  • when new equipment, materials or work processes are introduced
  • if a new problem is found
  • if consultation shows a review is necessary
  • if there is an injury or near miss
  • if a health and safety representative requests it.
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