What is a Risk Matrix?
Using a risk matrix for your workplace risk assessment allows you to look at each hazard and determine how significant the risk might be, before allowing you to prioritise your actions.
The risk matrix template example opposite is a basic ‘Risk Matrix’ – it is quite simple, but of course that makes it easy to interpret and it does just fine for most applications.
You may find risk matrices that are much more detailed or complex, but they usually work along the same principles.
It’s important to note, that the intention of a risk matrix or ‘risk assessment matrix’ is not to provide a specific, ‘quantitative’ measurement of risk.
We aren’t ‘measuring’ anything physically.
It does, however, allow the assessor to prioritise according to the perceived risk level. It’s up to us to decide the following for each hazard or work activity:
- Likelihood (1-3) – how likely an accident it is that someone will come to harm.
- Severity (1-3) – the seriousness of the potential injury or illness
As shown in the risk matrix, the number chosen for each element (Likelihood and Severity) represents a level of significance e.g. high, medium or low.
Severity – How bad is the outcome likely to be i.e. the severity of injury or illness?
Likelihood – What are the chances of it happening with the current controls in place?
Assessing the Risk
This step in the risk assessment process is vitally important – you have identify the significant hazards, now it’s time to assess the risk.
A common method of assessing the level of risk is to assign a value to each of two component parts – Likelihood and Severity.
As explained in our video below on How to Assess Risk, a combination of Severity x Likelihood = Risk.
Firstly, the Likelihood should be determined. We must decide which of the following best reflects the chance of the outcome happening – Very Likely (3), Possible (2) or Unlikely (1)
Once we’ve taken a note of that, we need to look at Severity. How severe would the outcome be if the worst was to happen? – Major Injury (3), Minor Injury (2) or Trivial (1)
When we have assigned a number to both Likelihood and Severity, we can then multiply them to produce our ‘risk rating’.
As you can see, the risk assessment matrix does this for you. It also provides a traffic light colour to make interpretation of the results even easier.
Let’s a risk matrix example to explain a little further…
Risk Matrix | Worked Example
Let’s think back to our Risk Matrix. How would you rate the following scenario (image below) when thinking about the ‘Severity’ and ‘Likelihood’ of a collision between the forklift and a pedestrian?
Let’s recap on how we interpreted the level of severity and likelihood in our risk matrix example;
Severity | if a pedestrian was hit by the forklift truck, what might the consequences be?
The weight, build & function of a counter-balance forklift makes serious injury a common outcome. Hopefully you will agree that the potential severity of the injuries could be very high. In many cases, this type of collision can be fatal.
So with those factors in taken into account, we would have to score this as a 3 (Major Injury) in our risk matrix.
Likelihood | when considering the chance that a collision would happen in this specific scenario, how likely would it be?
The driver is moving with a raised load (obscured view) and there is no physical segregation between the person and the forklift. The pedestrian is not wearing anything to make him easily visible to the driver.
Given these factors, we would have to say that a collision is highly likely.
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How Does It Look On Our Risk Matrix?
If we rate the Severity as 3 (Major) and the Likelihood as 3 (Very Likely), that means we end up with a risk assessment rating of 9.
As you can see if you look back at the risk assessment matrix, 9 is the highest score. This would normally indicate that there is much room for improvement and also that action should be urgently prioritised.
As you can from the risk assessment matrix below, there are many factors that may contribute to the likelihood being high or low when you come to assess the risk. As for severity, there usually aren’t so many variables that will change the degree of harm that will be caused.
This is most often the case, unless there is a significant change made to remove the hazard or substitute the methods used.
What next after the Risk Assessment Matrix?
Now that we have covered the use of the risk matrix, otherwise known as the risk assessment matrix, we will need to go to the next step.
Following our normal risk assessment process, we would then evaluate the risks, before deciding if we need to add (or remove) controls measures. Let’s briefly talk discuss how that might look…
Evaluate the Risk & Add Controls
Once you have taken the time to assess the risk using your risk matrix, we need to decide if the current risk level is acceptable. And of course, if we need further control measures.
Control measures include actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard.
These risk control strategies can vary extensively in terms of effectiveness, and if the risk is high, multiple layers of control may need to be considered.
So, if we are looking at a specific hazard, how do we assess the options for reducing risk?
When we are considering options to mitigate or reduce risk, we often refer to the ‘hierarchy of control measures’ as part of the workplace risk assessment process.
Now that we’ve determined the risk level using our risk matrix, we need to decide if the risks are at a reasonable or acceptable level. Or, if we need to put further control measures in place.
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