​Do you need a written risk assessment?

Q&A

​Do you need a written risk assessment?

Do we need to conduct a risk assessment before purchasing new vehicles? Gaby Grammeno explains.

Should we conduct a risk assessment before purchasing new trucks?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Our trucks are getting old and we’re planning to upgrade our fleet with new vehicles. Do we need to do a written risk assessment for the new trucks?

A Formal, documented risk assessments are no longer required under work health and safety laws except in particular circumstances such as working in confined spaces, diving operations and working with lead processes.

However, it may still be advisable to make a risk assessment in other circumstances, even if the process of risk assessment is not put in writing. In practice, ‘assessing risks’ means that before purchasing the new trucks, it is worth looking into various aspects of the trucks that may affect the health and safety of people driving, loading or unloading the trucks. 

Some vehicles have poorly designed seating that vibrates so much that it directly contributes to back pain for drivers. For short trips this may not be an issue, but if they are driving long distances and spending many hours in the cabin, it can raise their risk of back injuries, especially if they will also be involved in loading or unloading.

Noise levels in the cab can also be a problem. The legal limit for workers’ exposure to noise is 85 decibels (dBA) for eight hours a day or equivalent, but for more susceptible individuals, their hearing can be damaged by long exposure to noise levels below the legal noise limit. Lower general noise levels in the cab lower the risk of hearing damage for the drivers, and also make communications with the driver easier, thus improving basic levels of safety.

Note that designers and manufacturers of equipment – including trucks – are obliged under work health and safety laws to make the noise emission levels of the truck as low as is reasonably practicable. Manufacturers and suppliers are required to give the purchaser information about the truck’s noise levels under various operating conditions and the methods used to measure the noise levels. 

Similarly, designers and manufacturers of equipment including trucks are required by law to minimise the manual handling risks associated with driving, loading and unloading the truck. They are also required to give the purchaser adequate information about the features of the truck that eliminate or minimise the need for any hazardous manual task to be carried out in connection with it. In practice, this would mean the supplier should inform the purchaser of features to make loading and unloading less hazardous, for example, cranes, ramps or lifts at the rear of the truck.

Driving a truck for long hours can also expose a driver to increased risk of skin cancers associated with exposure to the UV radiation in sunlight. Points in favour of a particular make or model of a truck would include tinted windscreens to reduce glare and sun-visors to reduce drivers’ sun exposure.

The means of physical access and exit from the cabin also present a potential health and safety issue. A large proportion of the working population experiences back pain or other musculoskeletal strains and sprains at one time or another, and many or most people are less than optimally fit. The steps and hand-holds built into the truck to enable drivers to enter or leave the cabin may be such as to strain the physical capacity of some of the people climbing into the truck, or to tempt them, when leaving the cab, to jump to the ground from a level that raises the risk of knee or ankle injuries. Raised levels of knee injuries in workers jumping from trucks is well-documented.

Work-related injury affecting people driving, loading or unloading trucks can be a hidden drain on an employer’s profits, as well as disrupting the lives of the workers most directly affected.

Careful assessments – whether written or not – of the risks inherent in the purchase of a particular make and model of truck can help to avert long-term adverse consequences for the drivers, loaders and unloaders of trucks. Positive steps to promote the health and well-being of the people using the trucks brings a longer-term productivity benefit to the business, as well as fulfilling legal obligations.
 

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