What! Carry out a risk assessment, me? I remember starting out on my career in groundsmanship and the thoughts of risk assessments were the last thing on my mind. At the time, the notion of risk assessments, COSHH Assessments, manufacturer's safety data sheets were things not yet dreamed of.
One thing for sure though, in reaching my early twenties I could count my good health and well being on my successful and continual daily, weekly and monthly risks assessment practices. For sure, some of them were subconscious in nature and these are the assessments that you make when you catch a cricket ball or make a cup of tea for instance. We complete them without really thinking, but can be competent in doing so without sustaining injury.
Then, there are the types of assessments that require continual concentration. Making the initial assessment, such as crossing the road, requires further, shorter but continual assessments as we look from left to right and judge how fast the traffic is moving.
And then, we come to the sort of assessments you carry out if you know you are going to undertake dangerous holiday pursuits, such as skin diving or mountain climbing. In which case, if you are experienced, then you will most likely, along with your holiday packing, have a written list of all the safety equipment that you will need to take with you as a reminder. You may even have double checked the condition of your equipment to ensure that it is not going to let you down and, lastly, you probably checked out and filled in a holiday insurance form.
So, there you have it, an insight into the sort of risk assessments that we each of us carry out when we go about our daily business, and the sort of assessments that we never really complain about.
When the topic of risk assessments comes up in the work place, things seem to take on a completely different complexion, and is often seen as difficult when it really needn't be.
Some of the things that I have sometimes heard, and you may well have heard some variations on them, are:
• To complete a risk assessment is extremely hard and should not under any circumstances be completed by those not competent to do so
• I'm too busy to complete a risk assessment, I just know what is safe and what isn't
• I prefer not to go looking for problems, I have enough of my own
So, the thing that I am trying to portray here is that, if you can so easily and competently complete risk assessments out of work, you can, equally, do so as part of your daily work routines - and they can be as difficult or as easy as you want to make them.
Being in a work environment, you should remember that it would be difficult convincing authority figures that you have seriously thought about something that carries a high risk factor, if you haven't written the assessment down on paper. This will not only satisfy them, but will also give the heads up to your work colleagues on any safety aspects of the activity they may have overlooked.
Where do I start?
Anyone who has yet to complete a risk assessment at work will probably have some trepidation about where to start and, most likely, feel a little over powered at the thought of the number that you may be required to complete.
Over the years, I have steadily honed some ways and methods that help me to complete my risk assessments with as little fuss as possible. The first assessment tool that I use going into any new situation or place of work is my general risk assessment form (see above top).
This is specific to my work, and I am sure that you will have a number of different areas and items that you would be able to add to the list. The thing I like about this form is that it quickly gives you a good overview of the sort of risks that are around in your work place. The sort of thing that it will show is which areas where you may need to complete further assessments to bring the risk down to an acceptable level.
This can easily be set up on an Excel spreadsheet. You should print the form out and take it with you when completing the list of areas and items. Do a quick visual check whilst completing the form on who could be at risk, how likely anything harmful can happen, what is the worst that can happen, what controls are currently in place to control the risk and, finally, is the residual risk acceptable or not?
Historical records should not be discounted. If you are looking at how effective your health and safety working practices are, then you can always look back at your historical data. There are two areas here you can look at; your accident register and asking your work colleagues for any past experiences.
Sometimes, your machinery service records can be revealing, too - particularly in the circumstances of accidental damage, how close was the accident to causing an injury and how can you further reduce the chance of it happening again?
Generic Assessment or Specific Assessment; what's the Difference?
You may well have stumbled across a number of different risk assessments in the workplace, some quite general in nature and some that are a little more specific, but how do you ensure that the one you carry out is right?
Firstly, you will need to look at the task, item of equipment or work area/premises and make a judgement. Will this assessment that I carry out be suited specifically to this particular item of equipment or work area/premises, or will this assessment cover all similar generic instances?
So, if you have two or three brushcutters in your machinery store, and they are the same make and model then why would you want to fill out two assessments when one generic would do.
Similarly, this can be helpful for cross referencing your assessments to different departments where sharing can be helpful. It is probably safe to assume that another department at your place of work may have completed a risk assessment on a kettle or a microwave, in which case there is nothing to stop you making use of it for your own, if it suits your purposes. This cross sharing of assessments can help you reduce your workload but don't sit back and wait for others to complete them if there is a need for one.
Don't forget that, as well as people being affected, the environment can also be affected, particularly when dealing with possible chemical spills.
You may find the need to carry out a specific assessment if you were undertaking a particular activity that may be a one time only event, such as dismantling an old garden shed. In such cases, it is reasonable to assume that you will also be lifting, pulling and pushing during the activity and, as such, the assessment could reference your generic risk assessment on manual handling, if you have one. I would also place the task of erecting and dismantling a rugby/football posts into my specific assessments, as I can include my manual handling risk assessment to it, even though it is a regular event.
How do I know how big my risks are?
I make use of a risk matrix (above) as this is a simple method of plotting the severity of the risk over how likely an accident will happen. This will give an indication of whether the risk is high, medium or low. High risk is where you would need to suspend work while methods were sought to reduce the risk. Low risk is where you may reasonably carry out work in relative safety.
By Malcolm Gardner