I can’t count how many times I’ve been doing something at home, when a family member has joked ‘have you done your risk assessment?’

Emma Larkins

This month in the IOSH Talking Shop, our Consultant and Tutor, Emma, talks about a risk assessment being much more than a legal requirement. She sees it as an opportunity for engagement, progress and review.  

I can’t count how many times I’ve been doing something at home, when a family member has joked ‘have you done your risk assessment?’. (Like I haven’t heard that one before!). Most people that work in a health and safety role will know that it’s often the butt of the ‘health and safety’ joke. Why? Probably because there is an all-too-common misconception that a risk assessment is all about long laborious paperwork.

Risk assessment is a process. It is about looking at what could harm people and what needs to be in place to remove or reduce this harm. Yes, it needs to be recorded if you have five or more employees (and it’s a good idea to note it down even if you have less), but it isn’t about who has the best-looking paperwork, who can write the most pages or who can write a risk assessment for every single thing they do.  Essentially it is about controlling risk and letting people go home in the same condition that they arrived.  

Risk assessments need to record significant risks. I once had somebody proudly tell me that that they had 56 risk assessments for their small office, including one for opening envelopes (due to the risk of paper cuts!). Naturally I offered that person a bit of guidance (and saved them a lot of time!). It’s very important to keep in mind the need to be reasonable when risk assessing. You absolutely need to understand what you are doing and the significant risks. You need to do some research to consider risks that you may not have thought about. Does the equipment you are using give off vibration? Does the process you are doing, create emissions or dust? However, you aren’t expected to risk assessment every single tiny thing that could ever harm someone. It’s all about being reasonable.  

Some people’s idea of what a risk assessment is and what a risk assessment should be don’t always align with reality. I would guess that this is why mentioning risk assessments is often met with grumbles and yawns. But when done properly, risk assessment (aside from being a legal requirement) has so many benefits for an organisation. It provides an opportunity to hold a spotlight up to a task, to look at how it’s being done. I wouldn’t mind guessing that at the same time as making the task safer, opportunities for making the task easier and more efficient may be found. So, next time you need to do a risk assessment, try looking at it from a different perspective! 

Emma Larkins

This article was written by Emma Larkins CMIOSH, a Health and Safety Consultant and Tutor at The Bradley Group.

Emma has a wealth of experience working with clients to improve health and safety management systems. When not consulting Emma is found in the classroom teaching NEBOSH, IOSH and Bespoke courses to groups of students.