Taking A Hammer To Crack A Nut

The other day I was visiting a client and was asked to look at their risk assessment folder. It was comprehensive, well maintained with good follow-up actions recorded. I was asked to look at it because they were finding the process bureaucratic, confusing and wanted to know if there was a simpler way of doing things.

I do a lot of their risk assessments, so I was puzzled to see that what they were calling risk assessments should have been classed as audits. Put very simply they were risk assessing risk assessments – a wholly confusing situation to be in. What should have been a routine scheduled in their working week had turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. What we have done is extracted the genuine risk assessments so that they remain as discrete risk assessments and we’ve combined the rest into an audit report which reviews how the management system is working as a whole, looking at risk assessments, training, communication, etc. On my next visit I hope to see a less stressed office manager!

Now I know we health and safety bods have a reputation for being sticklers for detail – I include myself too, but we do appreciate that paperwork needs to be meaningful.

Over the years people have been driven down the road of thinking they have to have every eventuality covered by risk assessment. The legislation actually requires risk assessments to be recorded when there are five or more people in the company and the following needs to be recorded:

  • The significant findings – what the risks are, what is already being done to control them and what more needs to be done to make an area safe;
  • Details of any particular groups of people who have been identified as being at particular risk.

Some risks may be identified through other routes, such as inspection and audits, and this I think is where the confusion creeps in. Not all inspections and audits fall under the guise of safety, but the outcome may have safety implications. So, for instance, a facilities manager might do a site inspection and identify that a carpet is lifting or a piece of guttering is hanging loose. As long as a report highlights these issues and there is evidence that action has been taken to rectify the situation then that’s fine. There is little point in duplicating it with a risk assessment.  In larger organisations, a health and safety audit may highlight that site inspections are carried out routinely by a member of the facilities team. The detail should be in the facilities team inspection report not the audit.