Avoiding mistakes

Avoiding mistakes when conducting risk assessments

Risk assessments form the bedrock of a capable and adequate health and safety management system. Effective risk assessments will identify hazards, evaluate the risk and allow suitable control measures to be put in place, which in turn will reduce accidents, raise safety awareness, and protect workers and businesses. 

However, for workplace risk assessments to be effective, it is imperative that you get them right. These are the top tips from Nick Wilson (former HSE inspector) to help make sure you get yours right every time.

Train staff properly

The first thing to do is to make sure the people conducting risk assessments are competent. Competency is defined as having the appropriate knowledge, ability, training and experience to perform a task. One way to improve knowledge of how to perform an assessment could be to take our IIRSM-approved online risk assessment training course.

Involve others

No, this does not mean asking someone else to do the hard work!

The people who work directly with the equipment or process being investigated are often great sources of information for hazard identification, and can provide details that an inspector could otherwise miss. For this reason, it is important that they are involved in the risk assessment process where possible.

Cross-reference results

It is vital that information and guidance is not contradictory or duplicated. Check the hazards, risks and control measures identified are not already covered in another assessment, and make sure that any instructions, policies or messages do not contradict those that already exist.

Understand the difference between hazards and risks

Hazards and risks are often confused, so it is important to distinguish them.

A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm. A risk is a way a hazard could injure somebody, and there could be multiple risks associated with one hazard. For example, a chainsaw is a hazard, and the risks associated with it include:

  • Contact with the cutter leading to serious injury is a risk.
  • Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) caused by using the chainsaw too frequently, or for too long at a time.

Make sure to consider all of the risks associated with any hazards and make it clear on the assessment which control measure is associated with which risk.

Reference appropriate guidance

National regulators, such as the HSE, and trade associations, such as the Hot Water Association, provide guidance for most hazards. Check this guidance regularly to make sure that you are following industry best practice, and always reference them in your risk assessments.

Take into account key considerations

For any risk assessment, there are several key areas to consider. Some of the most important things to consider include:

  • Access and egress of sites: Entrances and exits to sites can often harbour hazards such as overlap of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
  • Health monitoring and surveillance: consider whether any of the hazards require health monitoring of workers to give early warning of potential health risks.
  • Maintenance and inspections: the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) require maintenance and inspections of work equipment, as do the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER). Risk assessments should both detail the need for inspections and maintenance, and consider the potential hazards associated with these processes.
  • Pre-use checks: the results of pre-use checks can be used to identify problem areas.
  • Previous accidents and near misses: a near miss is often a warning that there is a safety problem. Use details of previous accidents and near misses to develop safe operating procedures and best practices.
  • Safe systems of work for high-risk procedures and equipment: it may seem obvious, but some tasks carry a higher risk than others and require safe systems of work to minimise the risk.

Try not to use generic or ambiguous terms

Be specific and precise when creating a risk assessment. For example, instead of using ‘wide’ or ‘RPE’, give specific measurements for sizes or weights and state the type of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) that must be used.

When writing instructions, you should also be specific. For example, ‘any person on site must wear a hard hat at all times’ is a clearer instruction than ‘use hard hats’.

Be clear when using a quantitative scoring system

Make sure it is obvious exactly how the risk is calculated if you are using a quantitative scoring system. As part of this, it is important to define what the values associated with a risk’s likelihood and consequence are.

Inform others of the outcome

Risk assessments are fantastic tools, but they are useless if the people they are intended to protect do not know about them. Ensure that the findings of assessments are passed on to the people who need to know, and that they are informed of new developments.

Regularly conduct risk assessment reviews

In order to make sure that hazards and risks are controlled appropriately, assessments must be reviewed at least once a year. 

Additionally, if something changes that might affect the current assessment, then it should be reviewed. A change that might affect the effectiveness of a risk assessment could be new tools or equipment, a near miss, or an accident.

Keep an organised record of your risk assessments

Keeping an organised index of assessments, such as a spreadsheet, makes it easy to see when they are due for annual review. Make sure to include the date they were performed on or last reviewed.

Refine general risk assessments

It is common practice to create a general risk assessment for activities that occur in different places throughout workplaces. However, it is essential that they reflect any differences between the work environments. If general assessments are passed on to others, they must be reviewed and modified accordingly for any more specific hazards.

If you are looking to train yourself or your staff in how to complete risk assessments, consider taking our risk assessment training course below: