What is a risk matrix and why should you be using one?

by Alex on August 22, 2017

A key part of any risk assessment is evaluating the risks that have been identified to consider what control measures can be put in place.

Evaluating this risk might be based on various factors involving the type of work, the harm that the risk might cause, how likely the risk is and eventually, what can be done to reduce the chance of the risk.

A good way of going about risk evaluation is to assign a risk value to the original risk and then a residual risk value once the control measures are in place. You can work out the risk value using a risk matrix.

What is a risk matrix?

A risk matrix is a grid/matrix that maps out the severity of a risk against the likelihood of it happening. It is often mapped out on a 5×5 chart, such as the below:

Each level of severity and likelihood is assigned a number 1-5, the higher the number, the worse or more likely it is, and then using the risk matrix, you can assign the risk a risk value.

For example, if workers are carrying out a job that involves construction dust, the hazards might include lung cancer, silicosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder or asthma caused by inhaling construction dust, which are all very severe and potentially fatal, therefore the severity is extreme.

If the likelihood of the hazard is then likely, the overall risk value is 20.

Residual risk value

Knowing the severity, likelihood of a hazard and who might come to harm will help you to identify the control measures that will reduce the chance of the hazard happening.

Whilst it is possible to reduce the severity of the risk, most hazards can only effectively be reduced by decreasing the likelihood, allowing you to assign a residual risk value.

Using the same example above, with control measures in place, the likelihood of the hazard might change to very unlikely and the risk value is now 5.

Why use a risk matrix?

When it comes to risk assessments, you don’t have to use a risk matrix, as long as you’ve stated the hazards and how to avoid them with reasonable detail, you’ll be fine.

However, understanding which risks are more severe or more likely to happen gives both you and workers a way to differentiate and understand what the biggest risk to their health is.

In some unfortunate circumstances, workers wear the wrong gear and can be punished for it through injury and problems later in life.

By highlighting the risk of issues in later life and an associated risk value, it’s easy for workers to see why they need to wear the correct gear.

As stated by the HSE, “using a matrix can be helpful for prioritising your actions to control a risk. It is suitable for many assessments but in particular to more complex situations.” (Frequently Asked Questions, HSE)

You might not need a risk matrix to assess hazards and work on your risk assessment for a project but the clarity and ability to easily assign a risk value can help improve the understanding of a risk and the control measures that need to be put in place to reduce the risk.
HANDS HQ has a built in risk matrix which allows you to easily add a risk value to your risk assessment. For our larger customers, they can also customise the risk assessment to match their own risk matrix requirements.

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