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The benefits of assessing and managing risks

The effective systematic management of risks improves worker health and safety, as well as productivity.

Eliminating and controlling risks in the workplace helps to:

  • prevent and reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries, illnesses and associated costs
  • promote and improve worker health, wellbeing and capacity to work, and
  • helps to foster innovation and improve quality and productivity of work.

The model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks provides practical guidance for a PCBU about how to manage WHS risks.

Duty to manage WHS risks

The model WHS laws require duty holders to manage WHS risks in the workplace.

Duty holders include:

  • PCBUs
  • designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers of plant, substances or structures, and
  • officers.

Workers and other persons at the workplace also have duties under the model WHS laws, such as the duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety at the workplace.

A person can have more than one duty and more than one person can have the same duty at the same time.

Specific advice for duty holders can be found in Chapter 1.1 who has duties for managing WHS risks.

A step-by-step approach to managing WHS risks

Risk management is a proactive process that helps you respond to change and facilitate continuous improvement in your business.

It should be planned, systematic and cover all reasonably foreseeable hazards and associated risks.

The four steps for managing WHS risks are:

Step 1 - Identify hazards

Find out what could cause harm.

Detailed information is in Chapter 2 how to identify hazards.

Step 2 - Assess risks

If necessary – understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.

This step may not be necessary if you are dealing with a known risk, with known controls.

Detailed information is in Chapter 3 how to assess risks.

Step 3 - Control risks

Implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure that it remains effective over time.

Specific information about the hierarchy of control measures and developing and implementing control measures is in Chapter 4 how to control risks.

Step 4 - Review control measures

Review the control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

Learn more about reviewing control measures in Chapter 5 how to review controls.

The risk management process
Figure 1. The risk management process

Consulting workers

Consultation with workers and their health and safety representatives is required at each step of the risk management process. By drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of your workers, you are more likely to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures.

Reasonably practicable

Deciding what is reasonably practicable to protect people from harm requires taking into account and considering all the relevant matters, including:

  • the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring
  • the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk
  • knowledge about the hazard or risk, and ways of minimising or eliminating the risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk, and
  • after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.

Further information is available in the Guide: How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty and the model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination.

Practical examples and scenarios of the risk management process are in Appendix B – examples of the risk management process.

Controlling risks using the hierarchy of control measures

The ways of controlling risks are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control measures.

The hierarchy of control measures can be applied in relation to any risk.

You must always aim to eliminate the risk, which is the most effective control. If this is not reasonably practicable, you must minimise the risk by working through the other alternatives in the hierarchy.

Administrative controls and PPE are the least effective at minimising risk because they do not control the hazard at the source and rely on human behaviour and supervision.

Detailed information about each control is in Section 4.1 the hierarchy of control measures.

The hierarchy of control measures


Figure 2. The hierarchy of control measures

Managing psychological risks

The risk management process that is used for physical risks should also be applied to psychological risks in the workplace.

Further guidance specific to psychological risks is available in the Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties, and the Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.

Ongoing risk management approach

Managing WHS risks is an ongoing process that needs attention over time, but particularly when any changes affect work activities.

You should work through the risk management process steps when:

  • starting a new business
  • expanding or purchasing an existing business
  • designing and planning products, processes or places used for work
  • changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
  • changing organisational structure or job roles
  • introducing new workers or returning workers to the workplace
  • purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
  • working with a new supplier or new commissioner of your services
  • planning to improve productivity or reduce costs
  • new information about workplace risks becomes available
  • responding to workplace incidents (even if they have caused no injury)
  • responding to concerns raised by workers, health and safety representatives or others at the workplace, or
  • required by the WHS regulations for specific hazards.

Details can be found in Chapter 1.3 when should a risk management approach be used.

Model Code of Practice

The model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks provides practical guidance for a PCBU about how to manage WHS risks. Other approved codes of practice should be referenced for guidance on managing the risk of specific hazards.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about identifying, assessing and controlling hazards in the workplace. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.



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