Risk Assessors Writer’s Block

They say that one of the tricks when you’ve got writers block is to write about…. writers block.

I’ve been mulling this over whilst considering the topic for this blog, and lo and behold a fine example dropped into my lap.

The basic problem

Recently I had to review a client’s current risk assessments and found that one of them which was mainly concerned with heavy and awkward lifting tasks was missing any mention of Manual Handling. To their credit, they had covered other risks like the working at height, but for some reason the obvious risk from manual handling didn’t get addressed.

A ‘one-off’ example? Not a bit – this is something we see all of the time and is almost to be expected considering most risk assessors are facing a fairly blank piece and develop a short-term form of writers block (if hand-written, normally at this stage the writing gets bigger and bigger to fill the boxes up more quickly).

Another Client – who could have made a great career in H&S if they hadn’t chosen something more profitable 😊 – admitted:

“templates like ours which comprise basically “empty tables” can all too easily lead to (i) possible hazards or (ii) suitable controls being overlooked. Next to not doing it at all, this may be the commonest shortcoming in assessing risk”

So, what’s the answer?

We’ve tried all sorts of things over the year, from producing guidance documents (which no-one has the time or energy to read), to producing endless ‘tick-boxes’ (which make documents unwieldy and put people off right from the start).

Enter the electronic age!

One possible answer is to have a set of hazard and control ‘prompts’ which can be ticked to reveal hints or left unticked when they don’t apply. This keeps the end result from getting too expansive.

We think this is a good way of freeing up the risk assessors ‘writer’s block’.

An added element to this is that it can be implied that those hazards or controls which were left unticked were thought at the time not to apply. It is reasonable to assume that in my original example, had the manager been faced with a hazard checklist then the ‘Manual Handling’ would have been selected and some of the suggested controls would have applied, or stimulated thought about whether more was needed to be done to reduce the risk.

There’s always a ‘Nay-sayer’

Of course, not everyone is ‘internet savvy’ or has the capability to navigate through an online tool. This is the kind of thing I occasionally hear (deep breath):

I have a very mobile set of workers and none of them have tablets or smartphones, so we have to use paper. Yes the papers do get lost somewhere on site, and no we don’t keep a reliable copy. Mostly everyone signs at the bottom, but it’s difficult to get 100%. Most sign without reading it, of course, and the supervisors don’t adapt it as it should be to different sites. And, no we don’t actually follow the controls written in there – we gave up doing that technique years ago…does it matter?

One response to this last question is: how interested are you in finding a solution to this problem about poor quality risk assessments and poor information transfer?
Unfortunately, for some, this is also a rhetorical question as the answer is: Not Very!

If the company is very large and has resources, then the control systems are developed and can be seen to be effective in reducing risk.

Maybe in the future an answer to this last problem for smaller businesses will present itself, but for the time being we should try to make the best of the tools available.

Here’s one way it can work:

  • The supervisor or manager makes a site visit, scribbles notes on paper checklists.
  • They then produce a well-rounded risk assessment/method statements (‘RAMS’) in the office using the above online technique.
  • This is then printed out and used to brief staff.
  • Any additions are scribbled down and the supervisor or manager commits to taking this back and improving the template for the next job.

This is far better than the same person pretending that all sites are the same and issuing identical RAMS to site and collecting half-hearted signatures – accompanied by ‘it’s the usual bureaucracy, lads and lasses, just use your common sense’.

If you’re interested, head over to our ‘Useful Stuff’ page and have a quick go of a small sample that we’ve shared of our latest format
(hint: to understand how it works, tick or untick the Hide/Reveal boxes to view the prompts)