Generally speaking, a risk assessment for an activity should be retained as long as it is relevant to the task performed. Risk assessments should be reviewed whenever: a new hazard or risk is identified, existing control measures are not working effectively, there are changes to staff, equipment or chemicals and if the Safety Data Sheet has been updated. In a school situation, this means that a review should take into consideration:
- staff training,
- student behaviour,
- the activity conducted and the nature of the hazard,
- equipment and chemicals used,
- school facilities (e.g. a change to a different type of room).
Although there are no set times that workplaces need to keep these records for, it is good practice to keep a copy of your risk assessment, preferably attached or electronically linked to the activity involved. It serves as a record of your assessment, compliance with your Occupational or Workplace Health and Safety obligations, a reminder for the next time you perform this task, as well as a guide for future risk assessments. The aim is to ensure that suitable controls are put into place to reduce the level of risk.
It is essential that the emphasis is on the thinking process involved in identifying the hazards, assessing the risks and then applying control measures to minimise the risks. The Science ASSIST Risk Assessment Template is designed to help you in this process.
Schools need to follow the safety management systems in place in their school sector and the regulations in their state or territory. It is a legal requirement under the Work Health and Safety legislation for every workplace to manage risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. Each workplace should implement a Risk Management policy to deal with these issues.
The aim of risk management is to minimise risks to ensure that no one is harmed and that there is no damage to property. It is a continuous process of identifying hazards, assessing risks and implementing the necessary control measures to reduce the level of risk. It involves effective communication and management of staff at all levels. Science ASSIST have developed an information sheet on this see AIS: Risk Management and risk assessment.
Previous related questions:
Risk assessments (required for simple activities?)
CLEAPSS. 2009. Making and recording risk assessments in school science. CLEAPSS website, http://science.cleapss.org.uk/Resource-Info/PS090-Making-and-recording-r... (Updated January 2018)
In response to Nehal’s request for clarification:
Validity of the current/recent risk assessment for an activity to use it again for the same activity:
If an existing risk assessment is to be used again for the same activity, it needs to be reviewed to consider if the circumstances are similar and take the following aspects into consideration:
- staff training (e.g. does the staff member have the skills, training and experience to safely manage the activity?);
- student behaviour (e.g. do the students follow instructions and laboratory safety rules?);
- the activity conducted and the nature of the hazard (e.g. have any new hazards been identified, or have any existing control measures not worked effectively?);
- equipment and chemicals used (e.g. are all of the equipment and chemicals still in good condition, all portable electrical equipment within date for its electrical testing?);
- school facilities (e.g. is the room similar to the previous room with the same facilities such as running water, reticulated gas for Bunsen burners, appropriate firefighting equipment etc.)
Note that this review should also be conducted when using example risk assessments prepared by organisations such as an educational jurisdiction or text book supplier to ensure that the conditions are similar.
Storage of risk assessment records (in the form of electronic or hard copies):
There is no legal requirement in Australia to maintain records of risk assessments for school science activities that have been conducted.1,2,3,4,5 Note: in WA there is a mandatory requirement to have records of risk assessments for each hazardous substance used in the workplace and also to record that this has been done in the hazardous substance register6.
There is however, under all the occupational and workplace health and safety legislation, an obligation to assess the risks associated with hazards and implement control strategies to reduce the level of risk. A record of this process is evidence that this has been done. Each school sector or jurisdiction usually has its own policies and procedures concerning the keeping of health and safety documentation and these may well include keeping records of the risk assessments for science activities. Risk assessments may be required documents in health and safety incident/accident investigations. An essential part of the risk management process is also to monitor and review the effectiveness of control measures. This is most easily done if records are kept.
The model Code of Practice on how to manage work health and safety risks in section 6 ‘Keeping records’ states:
“Keeping records of the risk management process demonstrates potential compliance with the WHS Act and Regulations. It also helps when undertaking subsequent risk assessments.
Keeping records of the risk management process has the following benefits. It:
- allows you to demonstrate how decisions about controlling risks were made
- assists in targeting training at key hazards
- provides a basis for preparing safe work procedures
- allows you to more easily review risks following any changes to legislation or business activities
- demonstrates to others (regulators, investors, shareholders, customers) that work health and safety risks are being managed.
The detail and extent of recording will depend on the size of your workplace and the potential for major work health and safety issues. It is useful to keep information on:
- the identified hazards, assessed risks and chosen control measures (including any hazard checklists, worksheets and assessment tools used in working through the risk management process)
- how and when the control measures were implemented, monitored and reviewed
- who you consulted with
- relevant training records
- any plans for changes.
There are specific record-keeping requirements in the WHS Regulations for some hazards, such as hazardous chemicals. If such hazards have been identified at your workplace, you must keep the relevant records for the time specified.
You should ensure that everyone in your workplace is aware of record-keeping requirements, including which records are accessible and where they are kept.”7
Science ASSIST considers that it is good practice to keep a copy of previous risk assessments, preferably attached or electronically linked to the activity involved. It serves as a record of your assessment, compliance with your Occupational or Workplace Health and Safety obligations, a reminder for the next time you perform this task as well as a guide for monitoring and reviewing control measures in preparing future risk assessments. The main aim is not to focus on the paperwork of the risk assessment process, but to ensure that suitable controls are put into place to reduce the level of risk.
It is important that all schools be aware of and follow the safety systems established in their school sector or jurisdiction. For further information regarding risk assessment and links to jurisdictional risk management information, see AIS: Risk Management and risk assessment.
1 ‘Record keeping’, WorkplaceOHS website. http://workplaceohs.com.au/legislation/record-keeping (Accessed March 2016)
2 Safe Work Australia. Managing risks to health and safety at the workplace fact sheet’, Safe Work Australia Website. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/721/Managing-risks-to-health-fact-sheet.pdf (August 2012)
3 ‘Model WHS Regulations’, WorkplaceOHS website. http://workplaceohs.com.au/legislation/record-keeping/model-whs-regulations (Accessed March 2016)
4 ‘Victoria's record keeping requirements’, WorkplaceOHS website. http://workplaceohs.com.au/legislation/record-keeping/vic (Accessed March 2016)
5 ‘Western Australia's record keeping requirements’, WorkplaceOHS website. http://workplaceohs.com.au/legislation/record-keeping/wa (Accessed March 2016)
6 Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (WA). Regulation 5.15. http://www.slp.wa.gov.au/legislation/agency.nsf/docep_main_mrtitle_1853_homepage.html
7 Safe Work Australia ‘How to manage work health and safety risks – Code of Practice’, page 19, Safe Work Australia website http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/633/How_to_Manage_Work_Health_and_Safety_Risks.pdf (December 2011)