Risk Assessment – Asking the Right Questions

Some Health and safety policy and procedures are based on an assessment of risk, the impact of an accident and the likelihood of it occurring. This information is in turn based on a risk assessment. However, few individuals expected to conduct risk assessments will have received formal and specific training in how to do so.

I was speaking to a Health and Safety professional the other day who said, ‘When carrying out risk assessments people can ask the wrong questions and miss opportunities to further reduce risks.'

Instead of asking, ‘What is the likelihood of me falling off that ladder?’ To which the answer may be, 'Low as I am not intending to use the ladder'. They should be asking, ’If I or someone else were to fall off that ladder, what are the likely consequences and what can I do to avoid them?’ As the consequences of falling off a ladder can be severe, care is often then taken to look more constructively at how to avoid it – securing the ladder, securing the person, working in a two man team, using alternative equipment to work at height etc. – a quite different assessment of the risk than would have been achieved from the first question.

The other element that has an impact on risk assessment is the attitude to risk of the person undertaking the assessment. Someone with a more cavalier attitude will come out with a different assessment to someone who is naturally more cautious or risk averse. Employers cannot control attitude, but may be able to take steps to increase awareness and educate staff about the type of questions they should be asking themselves and others in the process of risk assessing a task or situation.  

The HSE has a useful guide, ‘Five Steps to Risk Assessment’, which is well worth reading if you need to conduct risk assessments.

The risks of workplace violence should also be assessed using the five step guide or a similar process to ensure staff working in roles where they may be exposed to verbal abuse or physical assault are adequately protected and have relevant training. Maybo often works with organisations to look more closely at trigger points to violence to assess whether changing a process or procedure, a reception area layout or working schedule could be an effective method of controlling a risk before it escalates into a workplace violence incident. Familiarity and routine can make it more difficult to stand back and look at a situation objectively to identify additional controls and measures, so bringing in outside help to assess higher level risks or asking colleagues can be a useful exercise to help achieve a safer outcome.


Posted by Maybo on March 18, 2017



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