26 Jun Risky Business… or just Risk Assessments…

Here we go again… for some reason I keep thinking of Tom Cruise films and this time the topic of risk assessments made me think of Risky Business – some might say the film that launched his career. Not least for the scene of him sliding into shot from the side in his pants and socks and dancing around the living room to “Old Time Rock and Roll”!

Unfortunately I am not spending this blog talking about the nuances of the film or the deeper moral story behind it … actually was there one? It probably had something to do with not inviting call girls to your house. Either that, or to ensure you do risk assessment before you leave your kids home alone!! I do plan to answer some of the main questions asked in relation to risk assessments. Sorry not as exciting as discussing this film.

The main thrust though is that when entering into certain situations, even an every day one such crossing the road, requires us to carry out a risk assessment. Most of the time this is done in our heads and that is ok but often in work situations these assessments need to be written down.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is the process of identifying potential risks and hazards along with how serious they are. Or in terms of Risky Business – what could go wrong with leaving your young adults – children – home alone? Or have you forgotten what you used to do when your parents left you alone?

In this case we are talking about health & safety risks and hazards therefore consider anything which might harm or injure: for example, where people might trip, fall, or collide; electrical installations and machinery; hazardous substances; or other particular hazards of your business. Long term risks to employees should also be taken into account; causes of physical or mental stress; poorly designed workstations; and manual handling (no we are not talking about that… Get your minds out of the gutter!).

Remember, you are legally required to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to control any risks you identify. The assessment should be reviewed periodically (e.g. annually) or whenever circumstances change (e.g. if you introduce new equipment) or if you believe the assessment is no longer valid.

How do I carry out a health and safety risk assessment?

Well I suggest you don’t do what teenage friends Gary & Wyatt did in Weird Science when creating their perfect woman… They used bras on their heads perhaps not the most noise blocking equipment although that might depend on the padding being used! Okay so it was ceremonial not for any particular purpose but you get my drift.

So in the words of Kelly LeBrock (there is something I never thought I would say) “what would you little maniacs like to do first?” or in H&S Terms “what do you do first?” Easy, identify the hazards. Inspect your premises and the tasks carried out. Speak to employees and safety representatives. Check suppliers’ instructions and information. You can also review accident and illness records.

Decide who could be affected – bearing in mind particular risks to visitors, contractors and new employees who may not be aware of your safety procedures, and anyone who might be particularly vulnerable (e.g. young people and new or expectant mothers).

Evaluate the level of risk. Someone who was good at this was Ferris Bueller in planning his ‘day off’. So like him make sure you evaluate the risk and do it before something goes wrong. Don’t end up like Cameron who takes drastic action after his dad’s Ferrari has an extra 100 miles on it. Back to Risk; consider how likely it is to cause problems, how many people it could affect, and how badly. Consider whether you are complying with any specific legal requirements affecting your business and meeting industry standards. Then decide what you can do to eliminate or minimise the risk.

Finally, record the outcome of your assessment and any corrective action you have taken as a result. Remember if you employ five or more people, you are legally required to keep a written record of the assessment.

How do I deal with hazards I identify?

“The 1961 Ferrari 250GT California. Less than a hundred were made. My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love, it is his passion… It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.” (for those not in the know – conversation between Cameron and Ferris in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). How does this link in with this question? Well, ideally, you remove the hazard altogether for example lock the garage door…

Or in H&S terms you may remove the hazard by using safer equipment. If you can’t remove the hazard entirely, then you should reduce the potential for harm to acceptable levels. This should be done with suitable systems and procedures including providing appropriate information and training. In some circumstances, the best you can do may be to minimise exposure to hazards – for example, only allowing suitably trained employees to use dangerous equipment.

Taking reasonably practicable steps is your legal duty to keep everyone healthy and safe, reducing risks to an acceptable level. The lengths you need to go depends on the seriousness of the risk – how many people are exposed to the hazard, how often, and how seriously they could be affected.

Remember serious risks require you to try and tackle the cause rather than merely providing protection or warnings.

Do I have to provide my employees with health and safety training?

There is not much I can say here to dress this up so, basically, the answer is Yes. You must provide appropriate information, instruction and training. You should include health and safety in induction for new employees (or employees moving to a different role), particularly if they will be placed in hazardous situations.

Anyway, in an attempt to lighten the mood when dealing with risk assessments we have learnt that no matter your age or how much time has passed in life one thing remains constant. When parents are not around children (no matter their age) will do exactly what they are told… NOT!!

Hope you enjoyed reading this and look out for the next installment… I wonder what we will cover next??