FAQs for risk assessment involving hazardous substances

FAQs for risk assessment involving hazardous substances

In our FAQ we have put together answers to the most commonly asked questions around handling hazardous substances.

What is involved in risk assessment?

Risk assessment is the central element in occupational health and safety and forms the basis for systematic and successful safety management. Risk assessment is used to identify and evaluate potential dangers for employees at work and to derive suitable protective measures from this.

Why does a risk assessment have to be carried out?

Risk assessments are too often neglected in many companies. A representative company survey as part of the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (GDA) has shown almost half of German companies do not carry out any risk assessments at their workplaces. According to the information provided by the companies concerned, in almost 30% of the cases this was due to ignorance of the legal regulations. Above all, however, the non-implementation of risk assessments was justified by the fact that there were no significant hazards in the company or that safety deficits were recognised and reported or eliminated by the employees themselves.

Common reasons for not carrying out a risk assessment: Proportion of
Employees recognise security deficits themselves anyway and report or eliminate them 83,2%
There are no significant hazards 81,0%
The benefit is too little 40,4%
The regulations are not known 27,4%
The legal requirements are unclear 14,7%
There is a lack of help




4 good reasons to carry out a risk assessment

1  Reduce risk through systematic testing

A rigourous risk assessment methodology helps you to examine the individual processes in your company in a structured and precise manner. It helps you identify all foreseeable sources of danger. By carrying out a thorough risk assessment you ensure risk is reduced as much as possible.

2  Economic benefits

The follow-up costs caused by accidents at work or occupational diseases are enormous. Based on an average inability to work of 16.7 days per employee, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Germany (BAuA) recently estimated the economic loss of production at a total of 76 billion euros (or 136 billion euros in gross value added). In addition to the downtime, there is a risk of costs for legal disputes, costs for damages and fines in the event of damage. With the help of risk assessments it is possible to minimise the risk of failure. In the event of damage, it can also serve to protect against claims for damages.

3  Occupational health and safety is a top priority

Employers are responsible for their employees. The subject of occupational health and safety is also a legally prescribed management task. It is certainly positive and desirable for employees to participate in security issues - but ultimately transferring responsibility to them is not permitted. Carrying out risk assessments, on the other hand, is a suitable means of meeting corporate responsibility.

4  Promote efficient work

An unsafe work environment quickly leads to uncertainty and demotivated employees. Safety deficiencies can also hinder employees in their work and thus slow down processes. If occupational safety is taken seriously in the company, this sends the right signal to the employees.

Who is responsible for the risk assessment? Who is doing it?

The employer is always responsible for the risk assessment. The practical implementation must be carried out by a competent person.

How does risk assessment for hazardous substances work?

  1. Gather information

  2. Identify and assess hazards

  3. Derive protective measures

  4. Check effectiveness

  5. Permanent consistent implementation

Gather information

It is important to get a precise overview of which hazardous substances occur in which quantities and during which activities in the company. For example, are activities involving hazardous substances carried out or can hazardous substances arise or be released during activities? In what quantities are the hazardous substances produced? All of this information is to be recorded in a directory (register of hazardous substances). Then it is checked which specific dangers can arise from the properties of the substances. In the case of hazardous substances, inhalation (inhalation), dermal (skin contact), oral (swallowing) and physico-chemical hazards (e.g. risk of fire and explosion) must be taken into account. In addition to the type of hazard, a corresponding risk assessment must also be carried out. The level of risk depends, for example, on the extent and probability of occurrence of the damage to be expected. How often and for how long an activity is carried out with hazardous substances also plays a role.

Useful information for you to refer to:

  • A safety data sheet on each hazardous substance
  • Statutory regulations and technical rules
  • The identification labelling and technical data sheets
  • Rules and information from the accident insurers
  • Hazardous substance information and systems pertaining to the employer's liability insurance association
  • Databases of official bodies records or accident insurance carriers
  • Inspections of the workplace
  • Findings from preventive occupational health care
  • Advice from employees or employee representatives

A safety data sheet

A safety data sheet is a central source of information for your risk assessment when working with hazardous substances. It describes both the dangerous properties that emanate from the substance or mixture and the measures that can protect against these dangers. A safety data sheet must be checked for obviously incomplete, contradicting or incorrect information. If necessary, a correct safety data sheet must be requested from the supplier and supplied by them. If the employer does not receive the required information, they must obtain this information themselves or assume the hazards for which no information is available as existing and define the appropriate measures. Alternatively, it is recommended to only use substances or mixtures for which the supplier provides the necessary information. Even for substances and mixtures for which no safety data sheet is required due to the legal requirements, suppliers are obliged to provide the buyers with available and relevant information that is necessary so that suitable measures can be determined and applied. In-house manufactured substances or mixtures or intermediate products that are not placed on the market must be classified by the employer.

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How often does a risk assessment have to be carried out for hazardous substances?

An employer may only start an activity with hazardous substances after a risk assessment has been carried out and the necessary protective measures taken. This means that an initial risk assessment must be done before using a new hazardous substance. Even after that, the risk assessment is by no means complete. Rather, it should be understood as a continuous process that requires regular and event-related adjustments.

If new hazardous substances are introduced to the workplace then the risk assessment needs to be updated. This may require changes in activities, work processes, work equipment and protective measures. Effectiveness tests may result in further measures being required.

Risk assessments my need to be updated if:

  • New hazardous substances are introduced to the workplace
  • Effectiveness tests result in further measures being required
  • The applicable legal requirements and regulations are changed
  • There are new findings either on the hazardous properties of a substance, or within occupational health care
  • New or changed occupational exposure limits introduced
  • Accidents at work, or occupational diseases occur
  • Incidents or accidents have occured
  • Critical situations are recognised
  • No reassessement has taken place for 2 years

Changes and errors excepted. All information has been carefully researched. Nevertheless, DENIOS can not guarantee the topicality, correctness, completeness or quality of the information provided.