Seven Steps for Risk Assessment

Step 2: Determine

What do I have to determine?

Basically, only the actually present hazards that are typical (significant) for the corresponding workstation and may affect the employees at the workstation must be captured.

Both hazards that may lead to accidents and work-related health hazards must be taken into account.

According to the Safety and Health at Work Act, hazards specifically result from

  • the design and equipment of the workstation, including all transport routes, working, storage, sanitary, and staff rooms, and the workstation,
  • physical, chemical, and biological stresses,
  • the design, selection, use, condition of work equipment (machines, devices, systems, and tools) and materials, as well as the handling of these and the handling of the work objects to be processed,
  • the design of work and production methods,
  • the design of the organisation of work (procedures, labour division, working hours, break times, responsibility),
  • the insufficient qualification, skills, and capabilities, as well as insufficient instruction of the employees, as well as
  • psychic stresses during work.

Hazards may also occur as a result of

  • the working environment conditions, such as climate, illumination, light, as well as
  • the selection and the improper use of personal protective equipment

In order to capture the hazards systematically and completely, you should orient on a list of hazards that are possible as a matter of principle. A basic orientation for assessing possible hazards can be found in the overview of hazard factors of the guideline risk assessment (annex 1).

Please also note that different hazards may result under different operating conditions. The following operating conditions should be included in your assessment:

  • normal operation
  • start-up
  • set-up
  • testing
  • shut-down
  • maintenance/service
  • repair
  • malfunctions/failures

Check all working areas, workstations and activities, respectively, in a step-by-step manner. For similar workstations, procedures.

What approach do I use?

It is a prerequisite for any further steps of the risk assessment process to identify and capture the hazards in your company. The hazards should always be determined on site at the individual workstations and including the employees concerned.

There are two methods for determining a hazard:

  • the direct (anticipatory or preventive) method, for example by means of on-site workstation visits and/or interviews, and
  • the indirect (retrospective) method, for example by means of accident investigations and/or investigation of work-related diseases.

Direct (anticipatory or preventive) method

Within the framework of the direct method, work systems and procedures are inspected for hazards that have not yet resulted in accidents. It is the top priority to preventively prevent industrial accidents and work-related diseases!

The direct determination of hazards includes six steps:

1. Determination of the relevant hazard factors

Determine all hazards and stresses (identified by hazard factors) that may affect the employees at the workstation. In so doing, flaws regarding the occupational health and safety management at the workplace favouring the occurrence of hazards must also be identified.

Please note:

More detailed information on the topic occupational health and safety management at the workplace can be found in the section What is the role of the organisation of the company?
More detailed information on hazard factors can be found in the section Expert knowledge.

2. Determination of the hazard sources

Determine the reason for the possible hazards – the hazard source.

3. Determination of the hazardous conditions

Determine the circumstances allowing for a contact point between hazard factor and human beings (hazardous conditions). These mostly are known conditions.

4. Consideration of specific performance prerequisites with the employees

Check whether specific individual performance prerequisites of the employees must be taken into consideration, e.g. for adolescents, elder employees, pregnant women, handicapped persons, or for employees not completely mastering the German language.


While some hazard factors are “not ageing-critical”, certain hazard factors must also be taken into consideration depending on the age of the employees.1)
For example, electrical hazards, hazardous substances, biological hazards, etc. must be deemed non-ageing-critical, while hazards resulting from specific physical influences (for example, whole-body or hand-arm vibrations), physical stresses (lifting and carrying of loads) and psychic stresses must be deemed ageing-critical.

5. Collection of information

Check whether there are provisions (laws, ordinances, accident prevention regulations, etc.) or technical rules laid down by the state or the occupational insurance association that must be observed (e.g. occupational exposure limits for hazardous substances).
If there are such specifications, these must be met!

In case of non-observance, protective measures must be taken immediately, see steps 4 and 5: Defining measures and
Executing measures.

6. Check whether there is a hazard

Check whether an identified injury-causing or disease-causing factor actually may affect the employees.

Indirect (retrospective) method

Accident investigations and more profound event analyses (root cause analysis)

Within the framework of the indirect method, findings from already occurred events, i.e. accidents and near misses, are included in the determination of the hazard. If the assessment is performed for the first time, these may also be events from other companies with comparable activities. Otherwise, this procedure is intended to update an existing risk assessment.

Deriving the sequence of events leading to the accident/determining the accident cause(s)

In order to learn from events and to find sustainable solutions, it is important to question the superficial causes and to determine the actual hidden causes. For this, the sequence of events leading to the accident should be reproduced by asking the following core questions:

1. What happened?
2. What took place?
3. Where did something go wrong and why did it go wrong?
4. Which main causes do we identify?
5. What can we do?

In many cases, it makes sense to perform more profound, holistic analyses exceeding "simple" accident investigations. They are particularly obvious for events entailing higher risks or that seem to be complex.

As a matter of principle, the following quality features are essential for all accident investigations, but particularly for more profound event analyses:

  • careful determination of all relevant factors
  • inclusion of employees involved/concerned and experts in the analysis process avoiding of accusations
  • consideration of indirect influences as well resulting from the company’s organisation, the work system, or from cultural aspects.

Assignment of hazard sources and hazardous conditions

The hazard sources and the conditions for them taking effect must be determined on the basis of the sequence of events leading to the accident and the determined actual causes.
It must be checked whether

  • hazard sources and conditions must be added and
  • protective measures must be expanded additionally and reconsidered regarding their efficiency, or
  • it seems to be advisable to re-design courses of procedures and work processes, as well as the protection concept.

When designing the courses of procedures and work processes as well as the protection concept, the main goal is to safely exclude hazard sources right from the beginning, for example by substituting hazardous substances or by ensuring an inherent process safety.

Sources of information

Instructions for investigating results and a process of finding a sustainable solution can specifically be found under the keyword "Root-Cause-Analysis" in information documents of consultancies regarding system and operational safety.

Information on events in other companies, as well as additional information on system and operational safety can be found on the websites

1) Source: "Alternsgerechte Arbeit gestalten", Arbeitshilfe IG Metall , NRW, Fankfurt am Main, 2007

Which aids for determining hazards may I use?

You may use checklists and hazard catalogues as aids for a systematic approach regarding the determination of possible hazards.


Checklists are mainly intended for small- and medium-scale companies. They are intended to provide information on the performance of the risk assessment, as well as on typical hazards and protective measures for a certain industry, for activity groups, or occupational groups. The information is compiled in the form of a checklist that may also be used for documenting the results.

Checklists can be found with your competent trade supervisory board and Industrial Health and Safety Office or with your accident insurer regarding industry-specific checklists.

Hazard catalogues

Hazard catalogues include lists of typical hazards and protective measures for certain industries or company areas. You may use hazard catalogues in order to prepare the risk assessment and use these in order to create company-specific checklists, for example.

An overview of available checklists and hazard catalogues of the accident insurers, the state safety and health authorities, and additional relevant providers can also be found by browsing our database with guidelines for risk assessment.

Expert knowledge on the individual hazard factors is included in our section Expert knowledge.

Determination of inappropriate psychic stresses

Also keep in mind the psychic stress at the workplace and take it into consideration within the framework of your hazard determination.

There are different methods for determining inappropriate psychic stresses. In order to get an overview of weaknesses and strengths regarding psychic stresses, orienting methods (among others use of checklists) are sufficient that may be used without having to be an industrial psychologist. If, after having applied these methods and taken measures for designing the work, no success can be observed, specific methods must be used, possibly in consultation with specialists.

In order to be able to objectively assess a workstation and the activities to be performed there, it is often necessary to pay several visits to one workstation. For example, this necessity arises if work is being performed in shifts, frequently different volumes of working material or information must be processed in the same time, or activities vary regarding time.

The workstation visit concentrates on observing. The observation is a third-party evaluation. Since, in most cases, the workplace owner knows the working conditions at his/her workplace best, a self-evaluation frequently complements the third-party evaluation and identifies additional weaknesses. Practical methods for third-party and self-evaluation are listed in the referenced citation.

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