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FAQs for risk assessment involving hazardous substances

Anyone who handles uses or "only" stores hazardous substances cannot avoid them: the risk assessment. For 25 years, it has been the central element in occupational health and safety. Our FAQs have compiled the answers to the most frequently asked questions about "Risk assessment involving hazardous substances.

What is involved in risk assessment?

Risk assessment is central to occupational health and safety and forms the basis for systematic and successful safety management. Risk assessment is used to identify and evaluate potential dangers for employees at work and to derive suitable protective measures.

Why does a risk assessment have to be carried out?

If the risk assessment is missing

Risk assessments are too often neglected in many companies. A representative company survey as part of the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (GDA) has shown almost half of the German companies do not carry out any risk assessments at their workplaces. According to the information provided by the companies concerned, in nearly 30% of the cases, this was due to ignorance of the legal regulations. Above all, however, the non-implementation of risk assessments was justified by the fact that there were no significant hazards in the company or that safety deficits were recognized and reported or eliminated by the employees themselves.

Common reasons for not carrying out a risk assessment Proportion of
Employees recognise security deficits themselves anyway and report or eliminate them 83,2%
There are no significant hazards 81,0%
The benefit is too little 40,4%
The regulations are not known 27,4%
The legal requirements are unclear 14,7%
There is a lack of help 13,8%

4 good reasons to carry out a risk assessment

So, is the risk assessment an instrument that can be dispensed with a clear conscience? This question can be answered with a clear "no" - because there are essential reasons that speak for the need for risk assessments:


Reduce risk through systematic testing

A rigorous risk assessment methodology helps you examine your company's individual processes in a structured and precise manner. It enables you to identify all foreseeable sources of danger. By conducting a thorough risk assessment, you ensure risk is reduced as much as possible.


Economic benefits

The follow-up costs caused by accidents at work or occupational diseases are enormous. Based on an average inability to work of 16.7 days per employee, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Germany (BAuA) recently estimated the economic loss of production at 76 billion euros (or 136 billion euros in gross value-added). In addition to the downtime, there is a risk of costs for legal disputes, charges for damages, and fines in the event of damage. With the help of risk assessments, minimizing the risk of failure is possible. In the event of damage, it can also protect against claims for damages.


Occupational health and safety is a top priority

Employers are responsible for their employees. Occupational health and safety is also a legally prescribed management task. It is undoubtedly positive and desirable for employees to participate in security issues, but transferring responsibility to them is not permitted. Carrying out risk assessments, on the other hand, is a suitable means of meeting corporate responsibility.


Promote efficient work

An unsafe work environment quickly leads to uncertainty and demotivated employees. Safety deficiencies can also hinder employees in their work and thus slow down processes. If the company takes occupational safety seriously, this sends the proper signal to the employees.

Who is responsible for the risk assessment? Who is doing it?

The employer is always responsible for the risk assessment. A competent person must carry out the practical implementation.

How does risk assessment for hazardous substances work?

The procedure for risk assessment for activities involving hazardous substances is described in detail in TRGS 400 and follows the following flow chart. The entire process of risk assessment must be documented.


Gather information


Identify and assess hazards


Derive protective measures


Check effectiveness


Permanent consistent implementation

Gather information

It is essential to get a precise overview of which hazardous substances occur in which quantities and during which activities in the company. For example, are activities involving hazardous substances carried out, or can hazardous substances arise or be released during actions? In what quantities are the hazardous substances produced? This information will be recorded in a directory (register of hazardous substances). Then, it is checked which specific dangers can arise from the properties of the substances. In the case of hazardous substances, inhalation (inhalation), dermal (skin contact), oral (swallowing), and physicochemical hazards (e.g., risk of fire and explosion) must be taken into account, in addition to the type of hazard, a corresponding risk assessment must also be carried out. The level of risk depends, for example, on the extent and probability of occurrence of the damage to be expected. How often and for how long an activity is carried out with hazardous substances also plays a role.

Useful information for you to refer to:

  • A safety data sheet on each hazardous substance
  • Statutory regulations and technical rules
  • The identification labeling and technical data sheets
  • Rules and information from the accident insurers
  • Hazardous substance information and systems pertaining to the employer's liability insurance association
  • Databases of official bodies records or accident insurance carriers
  • Inspections of the workplace
  • Findings from preventive occupational health care
  • Advice from employees or employee representatives

Safety data sheet

A safety data sheet is a central source of information for your risk assessment when working with hazardous substances. It describes the dangerous properties emanating from the substance or mixture and the measures to protect against these dangers. A safety data sheet must be checked for incomplete, contradictory, or incorrect information. If necessary, a correct safety data sheet must be requested from the supplier and supplied by them. Suppose the employer does not receive the required information. In that case, they must obtain this information or assume the hazards for which no data is available and define the appropriate measures. Alternatively, using substances or mixtures for which the supplier provides the necessary information is recommended. Even for substances and mixtures for which no safety data sheet is required due to legal requirements, suppliers must give the buyers the essential available and relevant information so that suitable measures can be determined and applied. The employer must classify In-house manufactured substances, mixtures, or intermediate products that are not placed on the market.

Derive protective measures, check for effectiveness and implement them permanently

Suitable protective measures are to be derived from the knowledge of the type and level of hazards. When selecting them, the so-called STOP principle applies:

S Substitution – T Technical measures – O Organizational measures – P Personal measures

The order of the measures is synonymous with their prioritization. A technical solution such as B. a pollutant workplace, personal actions such as wearing personal protective equipment is preferable. The effectiveness of the implemented protective measures must be checked regularly. Important information can be obtained, for example, from workplace measurements, information on state-of-the-art, preventive occupational health care, or ("almost") accidents and disruptions in operational processes. The protective measures are to be implemented permanently and consistently (through operating instructions, regular training, role model function of superiors, and adequate actions in the event of non-compliance with the operating instructions).

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