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I’m following the right risk assessment steps but still having problems – why?

how to write really effective risk assessments

My risk assessments are right! Aren’t they?

Your business carries out risk assessments. You’re recording them. You’re reviewing them. You’re following the usual risk assessment steps advised by the HSE; the ‘5 steps to risk assessment’. You are controlling your workplace’s risks with the ‘hierarchy of control’.

You’re doing it by the book.

So why are you are still seeing problems? Problems like this:

  • High accident rates;
  • Frequent civil claims;
  • Prosecution fines;
  • Low productivity;
  • Low morale;
  • Quick employee turnover;
  • Bad publicity;
  • Damaged reputation;
  • Large numbers of complaints and loss of custom;
  • Lack of awareness of safety issues in employees;
  • Uncontrolled hazards and risks.

Even one of the above issues can have a large financial impact. Multiple can be devastating. You don’t want your business to suffer. So, what can you do?

We have put together an infographic for your reference. Whilst the HSE’s risk assessment steps are a useful model, our recommended top tip for generating sensible and effective risk management adds a few points to keep you on target.

problems with health and safety e.g. morale and productivity

The well-meaning Risk Assessor

Despite your best efforts, health and safety can be complex, and if you are not fully aware of health and safety law and safety management practices, it can be easy to miss something, or make the odd costly mistake.

There are a few indicators that can tell you if your risk assessment steps (i.e. your internal process) are missing something, which could be causing any of the above problems.

To find out whether inadequate risk assessments are the cause of your safety issues, check the risk assessment characteristics below. If any of the points sound familiar, you’ve found your problem!

risk assessment steps to solve safety problems

Do you have the competency to complete risk assessments? This point is important whether you are managing a high or low risk environment. A well-meaning but inexperienced risk assessor can easily miss things, make mistakes and contribute to gaps in compliance. Ultimately, this could endanger your workplace and it’s users by exposing them to uncontrolled risks.

The issue of competency is easily resolved by training and the post training experience of completing risk assessments. Please feel free to contact us if you need advice on training and we will help match you up with a course that meets your needs.

Are your risk assessments too complicated? Unnecessarily detailed risk assessments are unlikely to be read. They run the risk – pun not intended – of becoming a paper exercise. When you have to skim through reams of irrelevant information it is easy to miss the most important details.

The most important risk assessment steps to consider are:

  • the type of risk you are assessing (i.e. task, COSHH, equipment);
  • who could be affected by said risk (and how often they might be exposed);
  • what harm could come to the people affected;
  • how severe that harm is, and;
  • what controls you have in place to prevent that harm from occurring;
  • You should also have a date diarised for review.

Are you focusing on the right risks? I.e. are you assessing trivial risks and missing serious risks that could cause real harm?

Here’s an example:

You have completed a COSHH risk assessment for the infrequent use of cleaning spray, which could cause mild skin irritation, though it is controlled through use of gloves.

You have not completed a manual handling risk assessment for the act of frequently carrying heavy and unwieldy boxes up staircases. This activity could cause back injury, trips / falls, or musculoskeletal injuries if unmanaged over time. There are no controls in place for this manual handling activity. You are unsure whether manual handling training been undertaken, and can’t prove that there was, as there are no records of any training having taken place.

This could be a costly error in the event of an incident or injury.

manual handling example re significant risk

Are your controls suitable and sufficient? Have you done enough to control your risk by eliminating, substituting or reducing the hazards? Of course, we strive to completely eliminate risk. In reality, however, this is almost impossible. A zero risk culture is not one we should be aiming for. Risk is needed for innovation and progress, and in some industries, you can’t do your job without it. Rescue services are a good example of this; fire fire-fighters going into burning buildings, mountain rescue paramedics abseiling down rock faces. Controlling risk, according to Adrian Lee, Managing Director of ADL Associates, is about finding a way of ‘doing the things that are dangerous, safely.’

Is your risk score (likelihood x severity of harm), low enough when controlled to be acceptable? If not, you need to have another look at the hierarchy of control for a different solution, until your risk is at an acceptably low level.

Have you reviewed your risk assessments following workplace changes? Changes could include a new piece of equipment, new chemical, new employees or a change in process.

We’d recommend that all your risk assessments are reviewed at least once a year or when any of the above changes happen.

Using our Infographic with your risk assessment steps

Risk assessment is all about creating a process that works efficiently for you. Check out our infographic below. It points out some of our top tips for assessing risk, which you can use to expand on the ‘5 steps to risk assessment’.

The infographic might help you to focus your attention, produce more effective risk assessments and to use your time more efficiently when carrying out your assessments.

infographic - how to write really effective risk assessaments

There are, of course, certain types of specialist assessments which should be carried out only by experienced and qualified professionals, such as fire risk assessments.

If you need any further support or advice with any of your risk assessments, then please do contact us.