Last month the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) proposed changes to its guidance document, INDG163 - Risk assessment: A brief guide to controlling risks in the workplace. A questionnaire seeking feedback on the draft changes remains live and can be accessed here.

The existing guidance which was last revised in 2014 sets out what businesses must do in order to assess and control risks in the workplace. The proposed changes reflect the HSE’s concern that organisations see recording of risk assessments as something separate from other things they do to manage their business. The regulator is keen to change this mind-set and overhaul any perception that risk assessments may be overly-burdensome:

“Risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork – it is about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. We want to put more emphasis on controlling risk and less on written assessments, without reducing standards.”

The proposals emphasise the flexibility of the risk assessment process. In particular, they aim to prevent the “perceived disassociation” between health and safety measures and the day-to-day management of a business. The HSE advises that the assessments ought not to be considered as a separate, box-ticking exercise, but should instead form part of the ordinary and every day running of a company.

Whilst this is a significant message to deliver, the actual changes made to the ‘core leaflet guidance’ are minimal. The HSE proposes the insertion of two paragraphs in the guidance. These provide that risk assessments can form part of other “documents, such as guidance to employees (including HSE guidance), method statements, [or] data sheets”. These can serve as a record of safety findings and do not need to be duplicated in a separate risk assessment. It is this clarification which the HSE hopes will prevent the process from being seen as merely an exercise in creating more paperwork.

On this same theme, the changes note that “insurers and contractors may ask for more detailed paperwork than the law requires. Ask if you are not sure.” Once again, the focus is on distancing the risk assessments from a potentially onerous image.

Failures in relation to risk assessments arise in the majority of health and safety prosecutions. Numerous recent cases have involved criticism made by the regulator concerning incidents arising from outright failures to carry out risk assessments, through to failing to action findings identified in risk assessments. It may be that these changes are the HSE’s response to recurring themes emerging from recent enforcement activity.