Everyone is talking about the humble risk assessment; for some it continues to be a difficult concept to grasp and to apply.
Risk assessments completed with foresight and practical application enable organisations to take any mixed messages, differences in opinion, and large amounts of guidance or data and refine into the best way for them to work or undertake everyday tasks.
The financial risk assessment is clearly understood; leadership teams will use concepts therein to develop a risk register and make strategic decisions based on the risk appetite for the organisation.
An emerging issue I have witnessed has come from workers bringing in infection into the workplace, due to activities outside, such as attending mass gatherings. Louise Hosking, Hosking Associates.
Yet, when we ask teams to look at tasks, environments and people, the concept is so often left in the ‘too difficult to do’ pile. Everyone seems to need a template or list of rules first. A risk assessment is not a checklist which lists current controls then leaves it there; neither is it an inspection. A risk assessment is a systematic review of a situation – unpicking current processes and highlighting any potential issues (hazards). Once determined, assessment of whether or not the risk level(s) are acceptable. If not, what can be done to reduce risk(s)? One size cannot fit all and it is vital for organisations to get to grips with risk-based principles.
Out of the current crisis I have seen senior management keen to learn more about managing risks and this has had a positive effect not just on managing the risks from COVID-19, but across both health and safety in general.
Stages of your Risk Assessment
1 Identify hazards
The first stage of any risk assessment is to identify hazards. COVID-19 is a hazard we cannot eliminate without a vaccine. There are other hazards which the pandemic has thrown into a spotlight, especially mental health and home working. As we look at our organisational arrangements to safely restart the wheels of industry we are all dealing with a barrage of mixed messages alongside emerging new issues.
2 Decide who may be harmed and How
Estate agents have to go into people’s homes to undertake their work so refer to the government guidance. Also, think about the office, the home working environment and consider how work is organised.
3 Evaluate risk and decide on controls
It can be useful to consider how likely a hazard is to come to fruition against the consequence of doing nothing. COVID-19 has a potentially fatal outcome so the consequence will be high and therefore what is needed to be put in place will be greater.
In determining controls, the hierarchy of risk control must be applied. Always aim to eliminate the risk at source where possible by smarter design. The provision of PPE may appear a cheaper option; always consider root causes first. The provision of PPE should be considered when other options do not sufficiently reduce the risk. Work with teams to come up with new ways of working – those involved may well have the answers.
4 Record your findings
In writing down your risk assessment other issues are often flagged. It may be possible to see where lowering the risk in one place creates a new risk somewhere else.
The record of your risk assessment will show your methodology, thought processes, and how you have reached decisions. Findings must be shared with those affected; this could be in a summary or easy to digest communication rather than the full risk assessment.
5 Review and update the Assessment
Risk assessments should be dated and signed. As the assessment is completed it will probably be clear when a review is required. If guidance or situations change the assessment will need to be considered again. This is not a “U-Turn”; it is about adapting to a changing situation and knowledge. Right now, most assessments need frequent review.
Homeworking – The HSE has issued guidance for employers on its website. At the start of the pandemic we all thought this was going to be a temporary measure but in many cases this has changed and new business models are emerging.
If workers are starting to experience discomfort from their home working workstations a risk assessment should be completed to determine measures to be taken. If offices are re-opening those with less space, who want to return or who may be experiencing discomfort should be the first to return where the office set up will probably have already been considered.
COVID-19 is a hazard we cannot eliminate without a vaccine. There are other hazards which the pandemic has thrown into a spotlight, especially mental health and home working.
If decisions are made to change the way workers are employed, basing them from home on a longer term basis, their risk assessment may determine additional work equipment is required to enable them to do so safely. In general, innovative solutions can be found to most issues.
Everyone should be provided with information to encourage changing activities regularly – staying hydrated, being aware of posture, taking phone calls standing up, taking a lunch break.
Mental health & wellbeing – The pandemic has thrown a light onto mental wellbeing in a manner never seen before. Negotiators are all about energy and sales. The very people the work attracts are outgoing and people-centred. Business leaders have had to adapt their entire business model. Add to this financial insecurity, health concerns and the unknown.
The mental wellbeing of workers must be assessed in the very same way. Consider:
- Demands – high or low
- Support and relationships
The HSE have published a guide called the Talking Toolkit which may help to kickstart conversations around how teams are really doing right now.
Loneliness is a new hazard for some businesses to consider and those living alone can be the last to reach out. Similarly, fatigue is becoming an emerging issue for many sectors, with holidays cancelled and long hours being worked to get businesses back to where they need to be. By talking and communicating with workers, team working can be the solution.
Everyone is going to have to look for new ways of work to maintain physical distancing, high standards of hygiene and to protect those in society who are most vulnerable. An emerging issue I have witnessed with a customer has come from workers bringing infection into the workplace due to activities outside, such as attending mass gatherings.
Whilst technology and changes in approach have reduced contact with customers, some is essential. As Kirstie and Phil would say, no-one would expect to enter into the most expensive purchase of their life without seeing the property!
Organisations who take true ownership of risk assessment working alongside their teams in combination with clear unambiguous messaging will be able to use the process to create an agile plan. All levels must fully embrace the risk assessment approach and feel comfortable with it. Faced with conflicting information and differences in opinion the humble risk assessment really will cut through the noise.
Louise Hosking, Director of Hosking Associates Ltd, is a risk management specialist with over 29 years’ experience within a variety of blue chip and public sector organisations. She was elected as an IOSH Vice-President in November 2017 and is an approved trainer.