Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have enough precautions or whether you should do more.” UK HSE – Risk Assessments FAQ

“I certainly think it’s become overpopulated with professionals or so-called professionals who make a living out of over-interpreting what the law says for their own ends…. But what they do is saddle their businesses with all sorts of bureaucracy that we don’t require of them… but which is turning everyone against health and safety. Quite honestly, I don’t think personally we need as many health and safety professionals as we’ve got. It’s a burgeoning profession.” Dame Judith Hackitt Former HSE Chair

I think that “risk assessment” has become a noun in modern parlance, however it is not a noun. It’s a verb. It’s something to do, not an inanimate object.

The safety industry has turned it into something complicated and technical sounding, but it needn’t be. And in fact in doing so, they have devalued it, as it becomes something completed by someone other than those who are carrying out the task. You then have to spend time and effort briefing it to the staff who to carry out the job, they inevitably won’t really listen on take it on board and the end result is that it’s a piece of paper (risk assessment has become a noun again) which is handed to the client (who doesn’t read it either) and life goes on.

This all fine, right up until the point where you have an accident and you discover that your work team haven’t been working the way the risk assessment says they should. The client (keen to distance his self from you, remember vicarious liability!) digs out your risk assessment, discovers this and rest writes it’s self. You hang yourself with your own safety documents.

This might seem like an extreme example, maybe I’m being a cynical safety person, but the point I’m trying to make is that if you commission another to write safety documents that you can’t/don’t work to you have missed the point. If you’re taking the opportunity to write these documents, use them honestly. If you discover something that’s less than ideal about your opportunity, use the moment to find a solution that you can work with rather than brushing it under the carpet with some nice words.

The other point that I’m trying to make is that if you use an external person to help you with risk assessment (which is perfectly legitimate, we’re all busy people) engage with them. Make sure they explain to you what they’re writing and why, and what that means in terms of operational practice for your business. If you don’t need to go back two or three times for clarifications you’ve either got a telepathic safety advisor, or you’re not really developing documents, you’re just using what’s been written.

The best thing, in my opinion, is that you write them your self. If you want to run them past a safety advisor for comment or some direction great, but it should be someone intimately familiar with the operation who write the documents. The HSE, as you can see from their statement, are very up for this. They don’t think risk assessment need to be complicated, and they don’t particularly like safety consultants. You can do it your self. That’s the secret that the Health and Safety industry doesn’t want you to know.