What is in a Risk Assessment?

Catwalk Clamp in use

I get asked this again and again and there still seems to be a problem with accepting the findings of the assessment. A well written Risk Assessment should conjour up an exact picture in your mind that details each and every hazard combined with the likelihood of this event happening. But all too often there are things detailed that don't exist, with a list of PPE that caters for an job that has been done before but in no way relates to the one now being assessed.

There can be many reasons that are given for this; "we are a big organisation and want to ensure that we are covering every eventuality so every contractor will use the same equipment" to "this is Company policy for this type of task". In reality neither are good reasons. The assessment should identify exactly what is required for the task to be done and different tasks may well require different tools, equipment and PPE.

We must not loose sight of the fact that when we select PPE it is because we can not find a way of conducting the task that does not have risk associated to it. That is all too often overlooked. A well conducted risk assessment at the start of the design process may well have managed to stop the wearing of PPE in certain cases because the risk has been engineered out. This is after all the very best solution.

So examine what you have carefully, it may not be you conducting the task, but imagine how your movement may be restricted or body heat build up through wearing what you have chosen. All too often I see the workforce wearing PPE that has been incorrectly specified and the PPE itself becomes the potential hazard. It may be that the harness that was selected was the top specification available, but for a complex confined space entry this may well cause snagging issues by having items that are not required and make the wearer awkward and restrict their movement.

The other side of the argument could be that a basic harness has been selected purely on cost and again the assessment has passed by the fact that the wearer will need to position themselves to work but the harness has not got work positioning points. Again this selection would increase the hazard and risk because the task has not been assessed correctly or the findings have been ignored.

Both of these end up with an increased risk to the worker despite in one instance spending more than required and on the other not enough. This is true for every aspect of your risk assessment and why they should be specific to the task to be done and not based on a generic. Like all things you will only get the correct answers if all of the questions are asked. I have said this before, this mean starting with a clean slate rather than from a position that makes assumptions. The same principal applies to every aspect of your risk assessment.

Whilst I have talked about harnesses this could just as easily relate to anything from escape breathing apparatus, full breathing apparatus gas detection or the requirement of installing a passive safety system like handrails. A well written risk assessment will lead you to correct product selection and good working practices. These will in turn result in a safe workforce with clearly identified processes that not only promote safety but also result in a whole solution fit for purpose.

Don't blinker yourself into not believing that what you are looking at is more complex than it is and vice versa. For instance you have to access a roof area via a stairwell with a cover to a door entry onto a flat roof. A guard rail is already installed that ensures that the workforce can not fall over the edge. The majority of the risks have already been eliminated, check the guardrail is the correct height and that the fitting are structurally sound and that should be all that is required for that component of the task. Only if the task means you will have to work the over the railing will you need to identify how to do this safely.

I so often see elaborate plans of how the work will take place and then see that there has been no provision at all for emergency rescue. If this is thought about correctly at the start then quite often the system used for entry or access may well also be the system used for emergency rescue, but this only usually happens if you are thinking about rescue from the outset.

So look at what you have to do and question how you can do the task safely. Then think how will you evacuate a casualty if everything should go wrong. Make sure that everyone involved sees and understands not only the risk assessment but the method statement that was produced from it. I hope this causes debate and leads to improved safety for everyone, because everyone has the right to work safely, because every life is important.


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