7 Common Risk Assessment Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

What are the most common mistakes organisations make and, even more importantly, how can you avoid falling into the same traps?

Pitfall 1: Missing or Incomplete Assessments
Do your risk assessments cover all your organisation’s significant hazards?

Ask department heads to check every aspect of their area is covered and don’t forget areas such as maintenance and warehouse/vehicle operations. Since two of the top three causes of workplace accidents are falls from height and being hit by a vehicle, it’s in just these areas that a fatality is most likely to occur – yet they’re often forgotten because they are seen as ‘support’ rather than ‘core’ activities. Three other common omissions are (1) missing out health hazards; (2) not considering the full range of people at risk and (3) considering ‘normal’ operation but not unplanned (yet foreseeable) events such as fires, spills and leaks.

Pitfall 2: ‘We’ve Filled in the Form, So We’ve Done All We Need to Do’
Do you have risk assessment findings that no one’s ever got round to translating into action?

Recommendations that appear in an official company document such as a risk assessment (but which no one ever got round to putting into practice) could be used against you in future court case; view every one as a ticking time bomb.

Every risk assessment should either conclude existing control measures are adequate or make recommendations for improvement. The paperwork is your evidence of the judgments made, but ultimately risk assessment requires action to minimise risk, not just a form setting out your findings.

Pitfall 3: Not Involving Employees
Did assessors talk to team members as part of their assessment?

Consulting staff is a legal obligation, but on a practical front, people are more likely to support and implement what they have helped create. Those in everyday contact with the hazards are often able to suggest both hazards that should be included as well as practical solutions that no one else has thought of. Don’t treat assessment as a desk-top exercise: get out and talk to those directly involved!

Pitfall 4: Unthinking Use of Generic Assessments
If you use generics, have you made them specific to your own unique situation?

We know the HSE accepts the use of generic (standard or off-the-shelf) assessments; otherwise, it wouldn’t include them on its website. Always check though whether anything needs changing to reflect your unique local circumstances. You may need to delete information that doesn’t apply or add in new material that’s not covered in the generic.

Pitfall 5: Risk Assessments Not Kept Up to Date
Have you reviewed all risk assessments in the last two years?

All risk assessment regulations require ‘review’ so that assessments are kept up to date, meaningful and relevant. If you bring in new plant or equipment, a new process, new chemicals or in any way change what peopledo and how they do it, check your assessment to see if it needs updating. New regulations, approved codes or guidance should also trigger a check, as should accident/incidents. Investigations often reveal hazards the original assessors never considered.

Pitfall 6: Ignoring Current Standards and Guidance
Did your risk assessors refer to all current relevant legislation and guidance?

Risk assessments must check how far what’s being assessed meets current national standards. Many hazards have their own specific risk assessment requirement; but even where this doesn’t apply, assessors still need to benchmark against specific legislation, standards and guidance to judge whether control is adequate. For example, for machine safety issues, assessors need to work through the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and the HSE’s L22 PUWER approved code (ACoP) and guidance.

Pitfall 7: Failing to Communicate
Have you told affected employees about your risk assessment findings?

People can’t apply safeguards if they don’t know what they are or why they’re needed; legally, workers are entitled to know the hazards to which they are exposed, and also the actions they need to take to protect themselves. Avoid this pitfall by bringing your findings to workers’ attention: for example, mail them copies, put up print outs in departments and make all assessments available on your intranet.

Make sure you don’t fall foul of health and safety law. Read Health and Safety Adviser and get practical advice and essential guidance on how to meet all of your workplace responsibilities.