The current COVID pandemic has bought Risk Assessment into sharp focus for many organisations. Some of the most common questions we get asked by our members are around COVID Risk Assessment, how to write them & how to communicate them to employees.
But the importance of Risk Assessments in general probably never really left the thinking or any competent EHS director, manager or advisor. In any event, at Make UK we are spending more time than ever thinking about & talking about Risk Assessment, so we thought we would share some of our thinking with you.
Most safety conscious companies spend a lot of time and money encouraging their employees to complete risk assessments in an effort to identify potential hazards. However, this is often not enough to prevent common risks or different risks such as COVID being overlooked. Here are three key tips to help identify these risks.
There are many reasons why risk assessments 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.
It goes without saying that those conducting risks assessments should be competent both in Risk Assessment & in understanding the hazard they are assessing. The second point has become even more relevant during the pandemic. But while UK legislation makes this an absolute requirement, it 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 have outlined a simple 5 step process to get us started & Make UK have further expanded on that in our free eLearning module here
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 as 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 or have a significant health effect.
Even once this understanding is clear, errors can still be made. When Make UK Health, Safety & Environmental 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? And, again with COVID, we know the latest BEIS guidance says we have to carry out a Risk Assessment, but do we really understand how the virus spreads?
Health problems still 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.
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. We are doing risk assessment because the law says we have to & the HSE are going to check, not because we want to keep our colleagues safe. 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 or that no one actually wears the facemask that is provided because it’s uncomfortable.
Time should also be taken to ask the person actually doing the job as they may be able to describe safety issues that won’t be obvious to others, 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.
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.
Make UK supporting your drive to competency
Up until this year Make UK delivered our 1 day risk assessment workshop as an open programme, meaning that many different companies could attend at one of our venues across the country. Whilst it was valuable for different companies to come together & discuss their approach to Risk Assessment this approach didn’t allow a detailed analysis & discussion on each companies approach.
So, in 2020, we now only deliver this programme for one company at a time. Companies can decide how many people they want to attend up to a maximum of 12, without there being any effect on price. As with most of our programmes, this course can be run either on-line via our Virtual Classroom or in-person at your venue. Find out more >
Your Risk Assessment process including your forms are built into the course free of charge.
What if you don’t have a risk process & standard forms?
No problem, if you subscribe to our health and safety support package, just use your on-site consultancy day to ask your Make UK expert to assess your current arrangements & then help you address the gaps if there are any.
Make UK can also provide standard forms which reflect current best practice or even help you move your Risk Assessment process to an electronic cloud based system via our unique partnership with SHE Software.
Please remember, Risk Assessment is the cornerstone of a good Health, Safety & Environmental management system, not just now, during a pandemic, but always & Make UK are here to help you get it right.
To find out more about our Health, Safety and Environmental Management support packages, click here>