The Occupational Health Nurse and risk assessment

How can an occupational health nurse evaluate risk ?

Introduction

Now that we have focused on hazards’ inventory and detection presented by chemical agents,we can move on to the second stage, that is risk assessment. The risk of a substance is the likelihood that it will be harmful in real conditions of use. The risk therefore depends on the intrinsic hazard and control of the exposure conditions. «Strict procedures can minimize the risk of the most hazardous substances. Poor control can create a major risk even with a substance posing little threat».

The employer must conduct risk assessment for health and safety at workstations including new activities. This assessment must be renewed regularly so as to take into account knowledge advances concerning products used.

Objectives

Risk assessment for chemicals is a prerequisite prior to any risk prevention programme in general. Well conducted, it should lead to the construction of preventive actions plan which will find its rightful place in the Occupational Health Nurse’s ‘OHN’ project approach. For that purpose, it is important to collect and provide comprehensive data on risks related to use, storage, chemical exposures or mixtures as well as toxicological data.

Risk assessment

To ensure risk assessment, the employer takes into account in particular hazardous properties of chemicals, hazardous situations and all exposures likely to exist via exposure scenarios. Various chemical risk assessment methods are available. There is no universal method, and the employer, who is responsible and the most competent for this assessment, is free to choose the one that seems to be the most suitable to the company’s specific needs.

Methodology

  • Know and understand the intrinsic nature of chemical hazard related to the molecular structure and detailed on data labels and Safety Data Sheets, ‘ SDS’ to compile an inventory of hazards (see Dossier 1).
  • Analyze chemical risk on the basis of workstations’ analysis (see Dossier 3)
  • Collect data related to health and safety provided by the chemical supplier, containers’ labels, technical sheets, and Safety Data Sheets.
  • Note nature, degree and duration of exposure as well as frequencythrough all routes of entry (skin, inhalation, ingestion) which must be taken into account.
  • Assess degree of exposure. The level of exposure may in practice be classified simply as low, medium or high.
  • Analyze workers’ exposure conditions by examining all work situations involving chemicals and the circumstances in which they are undertaken.
  • Analyze actual work based on employees’ knowledge regarding their activities and their jobs and not solely on procedures described.
  • Measure the effect of preventive measures taken or to be taken at the chemical risk level.
  • Match up with the findings provided by the Occupational Health Physician,’OHP’ during his/her prevention activity at the work place and during medical consultations.
  • Look for research conducted and recommendations submitted by of occupational risks prevention stakeholders (multidisciplinary team).
  • Obtain, if need be, additional information from supplier and consult for instance monographs of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the International Chemical Safety Cards drafted under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) or material safety data sheets in France from the National Institute for Research and Safety (INRS)…There is also the evaluation guide for occupational safety and health ‘OSH’experts and auditors published by ILO-OSH and many other resources generally accessible on the web.
  • Check the existence of occupational exposure limit values called Threshold Limit Values (TLV) or Biological Exposure Indices (BEI), company record card filed by the Occupational Health Physician identifying all occupational risks and employees exposed.
  • Rely, where appropriate on workplace accidents and incidents as they may also provide relevant data and guidance regarding occupational risks. The OHN is among those in the best position to exploit these data. Also because he/she is often the only one detaining valuable information, sometimes more informal from employees themselves.
  • Participate, whenever possible, in risks analysis carried out by the Industrial Health and Safety and Working Conditions Committee ‘CHSCT’.
  • Furthermore Occupational Health Nurses are active participants as regards compiling the single document.

Sharing experience within the multidisciplinary team, Occupational Health Physician and others: The OHN is considered an integral partner of prevention stakeholders. She/he accompanies the employees regarding management of their health and safety. She/he shares information that may help without losing sight of her general obligation to discretion.

Conclusion

The risk assessment process should be adapted to each company. It is necessary to ensure employees’ collaboration. Indeed the ultimate goal is to implement a prevention plan, collective and/or, individual. But without direct employees’ implication, these objectives cannot be achieved. Therefore, risk assessment is teamwork.

NB: You have personally contributed towards risk assessment in your company in France, in Europe or elsewhere in the world. You wish to talk about this issue, discuss it, share with us your experience, do not hesitate anymore. Contact us. Take advantage of this space, it is yours!