There are many reasons why risks assessment take place in the workplace, not the least of the reasons being a legal obligation. But it is often the case that this kind of box-ticking exercise doesn’t always support efforts to improve safety.
Businesses looking to further improve Health and Safety skills and performance should consider NEBOSH qualifications.
It goes without saying that those conducting the risks assessments should be competent, but the law doesn’t provide anything further on how this competency should be achieved. At the very least companies should be able to prove that their assessors have been through some formal training which offers not only training on the systems, but practical experience of the subject.
The Health and Safety Executive says that step one of the risk assessment process is to identify hazards, and it seems that it is often at this point where most errors are made. These errors can lead to legal action if the assessment is deemed to not be suitable or sufficient, or more importantly, accidents can occur a result of relevant hazards being omitted.
So, how do we ensure that all the relevant hazards are correctly identified at this first step?
It has to start with training. Do your assessors really know what a significant hazard is? One way to think about “significant” is something that could relatively easily cause a significant injury.
Even once this understanding is clear, errors can still be made. When EEF Health and Safety experts visit companies to advise on their assessment processes, the most common causes for these errors we find are knowledge, time pressure and complacency.
Having the knowledge to carry out an assessment is one thing, but actually being able to spot significant and varied hazards is not always a straightforward task.
We can all spot the unguarded and potentially dangerous rotating machinery, but we often ignore the poor operator that is forced to stoop and bend while operating their machine. We can see the trailing cables in the office and risks these pose, but who’s looking at the six hour drive the office manager had yesterday to attend an urgent meeting?
Health problems cause two-thirds of all workplace injury, while safety issues only account for one-third. A solution here is to develop multifunctional teams to carry out the assessments, with more than one person likely to identify the range of risks and not just the overt safety issues. Tweet this
In some companies the process of a risk assessment is seen as non-value adding and assessors are encouraged to get the job done as quickly as possible in order to return to work. The truth is, if people rush these assessments, they won’t bother to look closely enough to discover, for example, that the relevant safety devices have been disabled. Tweet this
Time should also be taken to ask the person doing the actual job as they could very describe safety issues that won’t be obvious, such as the strange mist that forms in the afternoon on hot days which could lead to the discovery of a serious health issue. We would never identify it if we didn’t take the time to ask them.
Assessors are often asked to assess their own areas of the workplace. This is bad idea as the everyday hazards that really need dealing with like workshop noise and pot-holes in the car park just blend into the background. This is because of the complacency that comes when issues have always been there. If we can get teams to assess others areas, we start to see the obvious hazards hidden by our familiarity. Tweet this
Companies will continue to spend time and money getting risk assessors competent, but too often, once we’ve got them there we don’t support them by making sure they can do a good job. Once you missed the hazard at step one, it continues to remain a danger to your workforce and your colleagues.