Managing risk

How long do you keep general risk assessment records?

How long should you need to keep general risk assessment records? Read more here to make sure you’ve got it covered.

25 April 2024

 

The Work Health and Safety Regulations specify timeframes for how long risk assessments for various different kinds of work activities need to be kept. If you’re in a work situation where risk assessments need to be kept for certain periods of time, you should know what the law requires.

But for ‘general’ risk assessments – that is, risk assessments for situations other than the particular work activities specified in the legislation – the requirements are not spelled out in the same way. 

Risk assessment requirements 

Since the harmonised work health and safety legislation was introduced across most of Australia, the requirement for risk assessments has had a lower profile. Documented risk assessments are now explicitly required only in relation to certain specified matters such as confined spaces, diving, and lead process work. 

However, this should not be understood to mean that risk assessments are no longer required for any other work activity. The WHS Regulations were drafted on the basis that risk assessment forms a part of the general duty to manage risks. The requirement to eliminate or otherwise control risks as far as reasonably practicable means you have to consider the likelihood and potential severity of possible adverse consequences of any risks you’ve identified

In practice, this means you don’t always have to make a formal, systematic, documented risk assessment, for general risks. In many cases, hazards and the associated risks are well known and there are well-established and accepted risk control measures. In situations such as this, there is no need to make a written risk assessment. 

However, the Model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks states that a risk assessment should be done when there is uncertainty about how a hazard may result in injury or illness.  

So if you’re not sure, carry out a risk assessment and keep it until the work activity to which it relates is successfully completed. If there’s an accident or injury during the work activity, however, it would be advisable to keep the risk assessment until all investigations have been completed and you’re sure there will be no further need to demonstrate that you assessed the risk. 

You should also make a more formals risk assessment if the work involves several different hazards and you’re not sure how the hazards might interact with each other to produce new or greater risks. 

More formal risk assessments are appropriate if there are changes at the workplace that could impact the effectiveness of existing risk control measures. 

Again, the more formal documented risk assessments should be kept until they are clearly no longer going to be needed for any reason, for example, if the changes to the work processes have been successfully implemented and stabilised, and there have been no problems relating to WHS. 

The code notes that you don’t need to make a documented risk assessment when a code of practice or other guidance sets out a way of controlling the risk that is applicable to the particular situation at the workplace the PCBU chooses to use the recommended controls, or there are well-known and effective controls used in the particular industry, that are suited to the circumstances at the workplace. 

Under Clause 12 of the Regulation, an employer must review a risk assessment, including any measures adopted to control the risk, whenever: 

  • there is evidence that the risk assessment is no longer valid 
  • injury or illness results from exposure to the particular hazard, or 
  • a significant change is proposed in the place of work or in work practices or procedures to which the assessment relates. 

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