Guidance for Risk Assessment
The assessment of risk is central to the management of health and safety. It is also a requirement which is implied in a considerable range of health and safety legislation, including the Health & Safety at Work (etc.) Act 1974, and made explicit in the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR). Certain specific Regulations also require narrow areas for risk assessment, e.g. display screen equipment and manual handling. Other Regulations also require assessments for exposure to noise or hazardous substances (COSHH). Assessment of the risks arising from work activities also leads to the selection of suitable work equipment or personal protective equipment (eye protection, clothing etc.).
The overriding requirement for risk assessment contained within MHSWR requires an assessment of the work related risks to employees, students, visitors and members of the public arising out of a Department's activities. The purpose of this is to assist in identifying those measures which are needed to remove or otherwise control the risks and to mitigate any consequences. The provision of information, instruction and training, along with the degree of supervision, also constitute control measures. It is also necessary to consider whether there are any specific groups of individuals who could be at particular risk under some circumstances, e.g. disabilities affecting their ability to evacuate the building in an emergency, adverseeffects on pregnancy or other medical conditions.
Risk assessment in a School/Department can be considered as falling into one of two groups, namely general or specific. General assessments would apply where there are common hazards or activities to the Department such as emergency situations, field work, lone working or out-of-hours working, first aid requirements. Specific assessments are related to a particular task such as use of a particular piece of equipment or the carrying out of a specific procedure. Whilst assessments of procedures in general use across the School/Department are best carried out at School/Departmental level, e.g. by the safety committee or one or more individuals reporting to this, the specific assessments should be performed by the individuals responsible for the work areas where these work activities occur since they will have the greatest knowledge of the activities being carried out. The School/Departmental Safety Officer will have a role in supporting or guiding the individuals doing this and thereby in achieving a degree of consistency across the School/Department.
The School/Departmental risk assessment should identify the contents for the Safety Policy. This may need to be supplemented by the specific assessments which should be kept more locally, ie within the section. The Safety Policy should make reference to these arrangements where relevant.
It is important that the assessment only considers significant risk arising out of the work activity and does not get distracted by trivial problems which may be identified. A significant risk is one where it is foreseeable that an injury requiring first aid or medical treatment or resulting in an absence from work, or long term damage, e.g. to hearing or an asthmatic condition, could occur.
Simple risk assessment
Hazard and risk
It is important to understand the meaning of these two terms to effectively carry out a risk assessment.
Hazard is defined as the potential to cause harm;
Risk is defined as the likelihood of an event occurring which will allow the hazard to be manifested.
The level of risk depends upon a combination of these two factors, for example the act of carrying a heavy weight carries with it the attendant risk of it being dropped, thereby causing a foot injury. The likelihood of this being dropped will increase in line with the number of times the operation is carried out and the duration of the operation. Similarly a flammable liquid presents a fire hazard but the risk of this occurring is low whilst being correctly stored, but will be high if used in an area where there is a source of ignition.
To allow for the possibility of dramatic consequences which may arise, then the potential consequences from a single event should also be incorporated into the evaluation. In the vast majority of situations the consequences would be restricted to a single individual. A small number of situations could give rise to the event affecting a small number of people within the immediate vicinity of the incident, e.g. other occupants of a work room. At its most extreme an incident could endanger individuals beyond the locality, for example everyone else within the building. Higher consequence events will only be associated with higher hazard activities, typically activities which could result in a fire, explosion, toxic gas release or serious mechanical failure, e.g. of heavy lifting equipment.
Qualitative ranking of risk
To assist in prioritising areas requiring health and safety improvements then the level of risk may be qualitatively ranked. This can be done by scoring each of the three factors - hazard, risk and consequences from 1 to 3, 1 being the lowest, 3 being the highest. The product of this is numbered between 1 and 27 and the higher scoring action points will be seen as having the greater priority.
Risk severity = hazard x risk x consequences
The severity of the hazard may be scored as follows:
3 - major (death or severe injury may result)
2 - serious (injuries requiring medical treatment or more than three days off work)
1 - slight (injuries requiring no more than first aid treatment, or brief absences from work)
Risk can be similarly ranked:
3 - high (event will occur frequently)
2 - medium (event will occur occasionally
1 - low (event will seldom occur)
In determining the likelihood of an event occurring, account needs to be taken of both the chance of it happening each time the task is carried out and the frequency/regularity of that task. Hence an infrequently carried out task which entails a near certainty of injury would be high risk. Similarly a task which is carried out very frequently but for which the likelihood of mishap for each occasion is low, would also be high risk since it is inevitable that the mishap will occur within a realistic time period.
Consequences may be ranked as follows:
3 - department (endangers individuals within a wide area)
2 - group (endangers individuals within the immediate vicinity)
1 - individual (single individual affected).
Although scores up to 27 are possible, for most purposes the scoring range will be between 1 and 9 since the consequences will be restricted to a single individual. Hence scores in the range 6 to 9 should be considered as high priority, scores in the range 3 to 5 medium priority and scores of 1 or 2 as low priority.
Where higher consequence events are involved then scores greater than 9 will arise and will serve to further prioritise those actions requiring the highest priority.
The following table provides interpretation as to the timescale for appropriate action relating to the scores produced from the above simple quantification process.
Application of risk assessment
A two-part form is available (Assessment Form and Action Plan Form) which may be used to assist in carrying out risk assessments and recording the findings from these. The first part analyses the activities and the second part contains the action plan to remedy deficiencies noted.
Although the risk assessment process may be delegated, the person managing the work area or activities remains responsible for the findings and for ensuring that the conclusions relating to any remedial action are implemented. The assessment form requires that the responsible person confirms their acceptance of any delegated assessments.
In analysing the risks arising from any particular activity each of the hazards involved needs to be considered separately against the precautions which are already provided. These may or may not be satisfactory. Where the precautions are dealt with by other documents (such as local rules for working with ionising radiation; assessments and procedures for working with hazardous substances; comprehensive documentation for the use and maintenance etc. of dangerous machinery) then it is only necessary to refer to these documents and conclude whether the detailed contained therein is sufficient to control the hazards. Where deficiencies are identified then they can be evaluated and prioritised using the method described above.
As well as the action being specified in the action plan this also serves the important purpose of making sure that the action is completed within a predetermined time period.
Examples are available from the Safety Office.
Link with training and supervision
One of the most important elements of controlling the risks and making sure that the controls are properly used is the provision of information, instruction and training to those doing the work. This also needs to be supplemented with supervision to make sure that the information etc. has been properly understood and the task is being competently carried out. The extent of direct supervision can be relaxed as the person demonstrates competence but adherence to correct procedures must form part of the ongoing monitoring arrangements. Familiarity can lead to complacency with the result that corners may be cut and unsafe methods become part of the "custom and practice".
The manner in which the health and safety responsibilities of supervisors towards students may be discharged is described in Safety Office Circular P2/94C. This considers the relationship between training, supervision and competence and records this in a Project Supervisory Requirements Form (PSRF). The principles of this apply equally well to the training requirements for any member of staff whose job involves tasks where knowledge and skill are needed to carry these out safely. For any department, section or group of people it will be possible to produce a generic PSRF (or Training and Supervision Form) which lists the hazardous activities and identifies those applicable to that particular person. An example of how this may be applied in practice is included in Section 5. The list of activities is identified from the risk assessment of the department's work.
Strategy for risk assessment
It is important not to lose sight of the purpose of risk management such that the assessment seems to become an end in itself. The objective is to have in place the necessary physical or procedural controls and for the people doing the work to know what these are.
The following points summarise the steps to be taken:
Identify the different areas of the School/Department to which risk assessments will be devolved.Identify who will carry out the risk assessments in these areas.Identify the range of work activities carried out in each area.Identify those work activities which are carried out across the School/Department for a general assessment.Identify all hazards relating to each activity (i.e. how could someone be hurt carrying out this activity?). Determine what control measures/ precautions are already in place and whether they are working satisfactorily. If available, reference should be made to existing codes of practices, safe working procedures or other assessments.Identify any problems or deficiencies found.Make an informed estimate of the hazard, risk and consequences using the risk assessment criteria and thus determine the risk severity.Complete the action plan table using the risk severity figure to help decide on the action required and how soon it should be carried out.Review the action plan regularly entering completion dates as the measures are achieved. Review the risk assessment every three years to ensure that the information is still correct. The risk assessment process will need to be repeated as and when activities change.Ensure that all the personnel (staff, students or visitors) who could be affected by the work activities are made aware of the findings of the risk assessments as it affects them. Much of this information can be imparted by way of the School/Departmental Safety statement.
The role of School/Departmental inspections in risk assessment
School/Departmental inspections should be carried out on an ongoing basis and at intervals which are much more frequent than the formal reappraisal of any risk assessments. When inspecting any work area the opportunity should be taken to examine whether assessments have been carried out and necessary action taken within the specified time. Checks should also be made to see whether the findings of the assessments are being disseminated to those concerned.