by Catriona Cowan, Shield Safety Group, Audit Team Leader
When working as an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) in Local Government, sometimes the sight of a new entry on the RIDDOR website would make your heart sink, especially if it landed on a Friday afternoon. Sadly, this meant that someone out there had potentially been badly injured. As part of an investigation into an accident, a request for risk assessments, training records, statements, CCTV footage, any relevant paperwork and more would be made. In some of the worst cases, risk assessments (legally required to be documented when you have 5 or more employees) would be non-existent or could range from HSE leaflets, unedited generic templates, all the way up to glossy 200-page documents, many with a 2-inch thick layer of dust from sitting on the shelves (we have previously blogged about “The importance of risk assessments”). It would often be a scramble to locate training records and with every passing minute and increasing panic on faces, confidence in management would be diminishing.
These days, as an Auditor working for Shield Safety Group, one of the exercises often performed during a Safety Compliance Audit is to create accident scenarios, a simple example could be a fall from height whilst cleaning filters in a kitchen. This is a great way to review whether a) practices could be safer and policies are being followed; b) risk assessments are suitable, sufficient and reflect the conditions on site; and c) the system in place to communicate the findings of risk assessments to employees is adequate. Other matters, such as the sufficiency of equipment/personal protective equipment used, would also be reviewed. Auditors at Shield Safety Group essentially do what an EHO would do, but before an accident happens.
When implemented correctly, risk assessments can be critical in reducing the chance of accidents from occurring, and that’s where, during a proactive Safety Compliance Audit, a fresh pair of eyes can be particularly useful.
Advice that is always given during an audit:
- Risk assessments should not be left generic. Generically produced risk assessments require to be tailored to include site specific control measures and procedures.
- Employees are advised to get involved in the risk assessment process. It is imperative that employers ask for the input of the people that are carrying out the jobs on a day-to-day basis.
- Make sure your employees are aware of the risk assessment’s control measures. These should be communicated to them as part of their job-specific induction training and ongoing training, rather than a heavy reliance on generic introductions to health and safety.
- Review the assessments on a 12-monthly basis, as a minimum. This does not have to be done all at the same time, as is regularly seen. Reviews can be staggered throughout the year and linked with refresher training or at the launch of a topic-specific Health and safety campaign. Risk assessments must always be reviewed after an accident, incident or near miss, even if the assessment was recently reviewed.
- Share risk assessment writing/best practice between departments within a single site/within sites of a multi-location business. Again, a fresh pair of eyes can sometimes identify, not only safer, but more efficient working practices.
The entire risk assessment process can seem daunting and complex but it doesn’t have to be. At Shield Safety Group we believe in making safety simple and have a range of services and products to assist with this, including the Risk Assessment Module on our Compliance Centre.