After reassuring yourself you have skilled people, and nothing serious has happened so far, the process is put on a back-burner, until an inspector or the insurer asks questions, or something goes wrong. Here are three common ways to sabotage your risk assessment programme:
1. Cover too broad an area
There is an urgency to ‘get it done’ and so lots of hits are made at one time. The condition of the workplace, everything from uneven floors to traffic management and poor lighting in the yard – all important, and all covered by health and safety law. You may even have a specific piece of equipment to assess, which seems perfectly straightforward – until it reaches five pages and there’s a whole workshop to cover.
2. Cover every risk you can possibly find
Suddenly risks are everywhere! The amount of work to rectify the problems seem overwhelming, never-ending and increasingly costly. You don’t know where to start or where to finish and it arises from a number of misconceptions, one being that absolutely everything must be assessed, another that all risks must be eliminated.
3. Don’t do anything with the findings
You’ve done the risk assessments, produced a ton of paperwork, it’s proving too costly and time-consuming and there’s a business to run.
How to get back on track
Limit the scope. Start with the outside of the premises and work inwards. Each department should be responsible for their own and break things down into manageable chunks. That one piece of machinery may be used by several people for different operations and your five pages of assessment won’t be relevant to all operators. Do a separate assessment for each operation and involve the people doing the work to keep it relevant.
Deal with significant risks. Ignore trivial day-to-day obstacles but do consider all the circumstances. Those cables may be untidy but they aren’t a hazard in that far corner - those curling across walkways need urgent attention.
Act on your findings. Work as a team and categorise hazards into high, medium and lower risks. Focus on the higher risk and involve the workforce in coming up with solutions. Decide what would be ideal and what is reasonably practicable in the current situation. Budget for the longer term and in the meantime put in place suitable measures to minimise risks as far as reasonably practicable in the short term and medium term.
You don’t have to have done everything. What’s important is to show you have a plan and are working on improvements.
Alexis Barrett CMIOSH OSHCR
Senior Health and Safety Consultant