Conducting a Risk Assessment: What You Need to Know To Get Started

Posted by Eric Olson on May 1, 2017 8:04:00 AM

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Ever design a machine only to find out later that there wasn’t a risk assessment conducted? And, as a result, the design had to be modified due to safety requirements, adding additional cost, time and resources.

As end users, machine builders and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) are becoming more familiar and comfortable with the latest machine safety standards, risk assessments are now being requested frequently to be in compliance with the applicable machine safety standards in North America and Europe, such as Risk Assessment Standards ANSI B11.0-2010 for North America and/or ISO 12100-2012 for Europe.

What is a risk assessment?

When should a risk assessment be performed?

  • The first place should be in the design of the equipment.  This is also typically the least expensive since the design can be directed in such a way as to keep your equipment as safe as possible to operate. Though this is the best time it is not always the most practical, why?
  • Often when a piece of equipment is being built for a certain purpose you cannot change the initial design or it negates the purpose of the equipment.  So the second time you should perform the risk assessment is during the building and testing of equipment.  Then you can determine what safety may be required by watching the movements of the machine.
  • The final stage that a risk assessment should be made is in production. This is actually the most common time for an assessment to be made for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons could be due to a lack of engineering time, possible budget constraints, etc. The other reason that many wait to get into the production phase before doing a risk assessment is because of all the variables that come up in production. (Remember that anytime a change is made in the process the risk assessment needs to be made again.)

What Goes Into Performing a Risk Assessment?

There are two ways every piece of manufacturing equipment is operated.

  • The way it was designed based on the understanding the manufacturer had with the end user.
  • The way the end users personnel actually learns to run the equipment. Those operations could even be different from shift to shift as each operator finds ways to easily improve performance and speed.

Task Analysis

  • Watch how the machine works.
  • Understand the machine both mechanically and electrically.
  • See how the people are running the equipment. (Always discuss the operation with them)
  • Document all of the tasks.

Hazard Identification

  • A hazard can be defined as anything that places someone in harm’s way.  This could be as small as a bump or abrasion with increasing severity of losing limbs or even loss of life.
  • This needs to be performed by someone who has been around a lot of different equipment.  The more experience the better!
  • All activities need to be broken out individually so no one is left at risk.
  • Determining the severity of the hazard and determine what is “tolerable” vs. “intolerable”. This could be considered “reversible” vs. “nonreversible”.
  • Use a third party (if needed).
  • Use current standards (ANSI, ISO, EN)
  • Determine the frequency at which the person is exposed to the hazard.
  • Find out if the hazard can be avoided, avoidance can change depending on who is running the equipment.


Every risk assessment should be documented and on file.  This will help to establish a history with a piece of equipment.  Some may feel that this opens them up to litigation if they have acknowledged a dangerous situation or piece of equipment.  More often than not this documentation can be used as a defense tool since not having documentation does not let you off the hook.

 Standards Used Today

  • ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999 – Robotic Safety Requirements (Still good for reference)
  • ANSI/ISO 12100:2012 – Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction
  • ISO 13849-1 – General Principles for Design (Determine Needed Performance Level [PL])
  • ISO 13849-2 – Validation (Safety Related Parts of Control Systems)

 Examples of organizations responsible for consensus standards include: 

Hopefully this article will help you to understand more fully what is needed to conduct a risk assessment.  If you have questions and would like to discuss your safety needs please contact ACD.

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Topics: Machine Safety, Safety

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