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Risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation and failure to conduct them is an offence.

To slightly paraphrase The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, s3(1) states that every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk to the health and safety of his employees and other persons who many be affected by the business.

Although that’s the core regulation for Risk Assessment, other legislation as diverse as Display Screen Equipment, First Aid and the Fire Safety Order all require similar actions.

So the law states ‘shall’ which is an absolute duty, there’s no getting away from it, but it also states ‘suitable and sufficient’. It’s not just a case of a few tick boxes.

Simple as ABC?

Although the HSE will readily tell you that ‘H&S is simple as ABC’, that’s only true if you know what you are doing. Their ABC campaign is purely aimed at small employers in low risk environments. If you’re looking to do your own risk assessments, or looking to get a member of your staff to do them, you or they have to understand what they are doing.

It’s no good telling the person from the Admin Office, who may be brilliant at sorting out payroll, to go and complete a risk assessment on that new machine you’ve had delivered for manufacturing your product line of specialist ‘left handed contra rotating obtuse angled whatsits’. That will require someone with machinery experience and knowledge.

They will undoubtedly do their best, because most people will, but they won’t know what they don’t know, so the risk assessment is highly unlikely to be ‘suitable and sufficient’; and you cannot absolve yourself of your employer’s responsibilities. You can delegate the task, but the responsibility remains with you.

So if/when something goes wrong and somebody is killed or injured, although your employee’s name is on the Risk Assessment, it is you the employer who will feel the regulator breathing down your neck.

Not only has one or more employees been involved in an incident, but you have failed to provide another employee with the training and knowledge for them to provide the service you required.

Significant Risk

But before you go running off completing Risk Assessments for everything, including emptying the office waste paper bin; the legislation is interpreted as applying to ‘significant risk’; it’s not a requirement to create a mountain of paperwork ‘for paperwork’s sake’.

20150606_155001So every potential Hazard has to be considered for it’s degree of Risk. The insignificant ones are discounted and the remainder are given the attention they require. The response has to be ‘suitable and sufficient’, but also ‘practicable’.

There are therefore 2 ways an employer can fail in their duty to be ‘suitable and sufficient’ in their Risk Assessments, they can be woefully inadequate, thus endangering live and limb, but alternatively completely cumbersome and bureaucratic, thus reinforcing the Elf n’Safety Myth so beloved of tabloid media.

If a Risk Assessment is excessive in it’s requirements, it may be more than sufficient, but certainly not suitable, and it’s more likely to ignored by the employees.

One or more inappropriate Risk Assessments in your workplace and the employees are soon going to view all your H&S measures as equally pointless, thus your H&S management will break down. Before you know it, the accident that’s been waiting to happen will do so.

But it won’t be an ‘accident’, it will be a preventable incident that you could have stopped from ever occurring.

We are 1 month into 2017 and there have already been deaths, plus numerous injuries, in UK workplaces.

Make sure your Risk Assessments are ‘suitable’ and ‘sufficient’.

Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.