I have had experience in writing risk assessments in a volunteering capacity and also as a solicitor. Often by the time a risk assessment appears on my desk, an accident has already happened. Having analysed many risk assessments after the event, it is clear to me that there are a number of common mistakes which if avoided, may well have avoided the accident too. Here are my tips for drafting risk assessments.
1. Engage with the task you are risk assessing
Sounds pretty fundamental right? However, a purely theoretical paper exercise is unlikely to create the desired result. Whoever is writing the assessment should try to carry out the task themselves, watch the task being performed or speak to someone who carries out the task. The practical approach will often highlight a different perspective.
2. Learn lessons from the risk assessment as you go
A well done risk assessment is a chance to review current working practices. A defence of “we’ve always done it this way” is unlikely to hold much water if, from a court’s perspective, the way a task is being carried out is inherently unsafe. You might also expand this into a wider general review to make sure that training and certificates are up to date for your employees.
3. Ensure reviews of current assessments
Once you have put in place the assessment, don’t leave this to sit in a cupboard gathering dust. A risk assessment should be a springboard into putting in place methods to mitigate risk. Update it to reflect current risks. For example, a risk assessment that fails to take into account the possibility of extreme weather conditions for employees working outside is likely inadequate. As my colleague Kate said in her latest blog on health and safety policies – review regularly and ask if it is still fit for purpose.
4. Look at the bigger picture
A practical example: Imagine a contractor’s risk assessment for manual handling across a building site. The assessment states that to cut down on manual handling, employees should take the “shortest route” across the site. Another contractor has a designated access route for the loading and unloading of vehicles. The risk assessment for this stipulates that there should be “minimal pedestrian traffic”. I’ll leave you to guess what might happen when these two risk assessments are not considered as part of the bigger picture.
In my experience, one of the biggest areas where risk assessments fall down is when people try to treat them as standalone documents. Whether it’s the interaction between your risk assessments and those of a subcontractor or simply the interactions between your employees carrying out competing tasks, this is an area to think about. Luckily if you are continuously carrying out suggestion 1, these issues should come to light before anything happens.
Hopefully the above suggestions will have been some use to you. Don’t have your risk assessment end up as some solicitor’s memorable anecdote!