Workshop Design: Risk Assessments

Workshop design for the contemporary study of Design & Technologies in is need of close scrutiny by researchers, architects, and the stakeholders who use these spaces. The post-construction improvements that are often required to be made in these spaces highlight the void of research surrounding workshop design and the difficulty many users find in uncovering and linking resources to enable compliance and functionality. Needless to say, the scarcity of resources from c.1960s onwards results in dangerous workshops that leave both students and teachers exposed to physical and psychological hazards. This is not to say that more offical documents are not available. To the contrary, there are many, but without a wholistic understanding of occupational health and safety, they are both cumbersome and timely to find and use.

One of the most common questions I'm asked about learning space design in manufacturing technology workspaces is the spacing of plant and equipment. On most occasions this question is propositioned with statements about being provided a new facility, installing a new piece of plant or the excitement of purchasing contemporary CAD/CAM equipment. My initial response to clients, as with many aspects of occupational health and safety is, have you done a risk assessment? Clients usually sigh with bitter disappointment. You know the look, the one you you make after realising you've mis-measured a critical cut. The change in the conversation is immediate and equally embarrassing. But this is typical of our consideration of design factors in all aspects of workshop design and procurement. The spacing of plant and equipment must be considered prior to the design of the overall space or, in the case of learning space refurbishment, to the acquisition of the plant and equipment. Only a risk assessment can help the 'workspace designer' understand most of the aspects and impacts on the surrounding space and processes, not to mention the ratio of teacher to students. The remaining aspects, which should be minimal, can only be found through ongoing use and continual improvement or in the case of an OHS professional, experience.

"My initial response to clients is... have you done a risk assessment?"

Andrew Nicholls

Conducting a Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is the methodical evaluation of risk based on each hazard associated with the item of plant or equipment. For it to be effective, the risk assessment must be comprehensive and involve key stakeholders related to the procurement, use, maintenance and disposal of the item. At the very least, it must be conducted by someone familiar with the plant or equipment and its associated working procedures. For those unfamiliar with compiling a risk assessment, your respective government department should have templates for the most common plant and equipment used in schools. If time or workload presents an issue for completing a risk assessment then it's wise to hire a professional OHS consultant to help. 

A risk assessment should be task specific eg. MIG welding. Each related procedure should be associated with its respective safety aspect eg. ergonomics, lighting, electricity, fumes etc. If the procedure involves working with a material or chemical, the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) must be consulted. This will typically inform you of additional controls and personal protective equipment required. The assessment of risk (the impact) should then be evaluated using an objective rubric for the frequency of likelihood and the severity of consequence. While completing the assessment, there are a number of considerations to account for.

Effective risk assessments are conducted based on two mindsets. Firstly, the judgment of impact is based on existing conditions, controls and practices. This ensures that the assessment is current and relevant. Basing a risk assessment on the possibilities of 'to be completed' fittings, procedures or cultures is hazardous and exposes your school to likely risk, serious incidents, or litigation. Put simply, if the control doesn't exist, you can't assess it. Secondly, the evaluation of impact must be judged with a vigilant, if not pessimistic mind. This is particularly relevant in schools as students do not perceive risk in the same way as a 'reasonable person' does and teachers cannot be everywhere or see everything all of the time. Remember, teachers are training young minds to become conscious of what they don't know. For these reasons, a risk assessor must understand that to err is human and hazards do not forgive.

Remember to Review and Evaluate

Last but not least, every learning space should be reviewed and evaluated as frequently as practicable. Commonly, this usually translates to once or twice a year. In this process, it important to analyse the use of machinery and systems of work including the most commonly processed materials. Consideration should also be given to the servicing or strategic replacement of plant and equipment.

For more information about risk assessing your workshop, contact Andrew Nicholls Design & Associates. 

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Tuesday, 16 April 2024