The HSE has defined risk assessment as
“simply a careful examination of what, in the workplace, could cause harm to people, so that a decision can be made as to whether the precautions taken are satisfactory or whether more should be done to prevent harm”.
The key terms of hazard, harm and risk have been defined as follows:
Hazard: Anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, or an open draw;
Harm: includes ill-health and injury; damage to property, plant, products or the environment; and production losses or increased liabilities; and
Risk: The chance, high or low that somebody could be harmed by a hazard, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.
The assessment and management of risk is a natural part of day to day activities. A simple example of crossing the road can be used to illustrate the key concepts.
Example: An Urban Road
In this example the hazard is the moving vehicles; the harm is the injury arising from being struck by a vehicle; and the risk is determined by considering the factors that may influence the chance of being struck by a vehicle and the seriousness of the injury.
The factors that might influence the chance of being struck by a vehicle include:
- The availability of a safe crossing point e.g. pedestrian crossing;
- The speed (30, 60, or 70 mph) and volume of traffic (e.g. dual / single carriage way);
- The fitness of the person crossing the road (e.g. mobility, vision, hearing);
- Whether or not the person is rushing or paying attention etc.;
- The fitness of driver (vision, reaction times etc.);
- The weather conditions (e.g. rain or fog);
- Other environmental factors (parked cars, no safe crossing point); and
- The condition of the vehicle (no MOT, worn tyres etc.).
The factors that might influence the seriousness of the injury include:
- The size of the vehicle, e.g. getting struck by a bus or lorry rather than a car;
- The speed of traffic (30, 60, or 70 mph);
- The age and fitness of the injured party; and
- The effectiveness of the emergency response.
Some of this information, together with information on available control measures may be used to determine how safe it is to cross.
Required Levels of Control
Employers are required to do all that is “reasonably practicable” to protect the health and safety of their employees and others at work.
Determining whether or not a control measure is “reasonably practicable” requires a balancing of the costs of dealing with the risk (money, time, effort) against the risk of injury (likelihood x severity).
What is Reasonably Practicable???
The greater the risk the greater the efforts expected to control the risk. If there is gross disproportion between the two, i.e. significant resources are required for minimal risk improvement then it may be argued that the control is not reasonably practicable.
The objective is to manage risks to a tolerable level which is one that people are willing to live with because it delivers certain benefits, and because there is confidence that the risk is being properly controlled.
Three important things are known about probabilities (the likelihood / chance / odds aspect of risk):
- There is no such thing as “zero risk”. Whatever a person is doing there is always a risk of injury or death. There is a 1 in 600 chance that a forty year old man will not live to be forty one.
- However unlikely it is that something could happen it could still happen. There is a 1 in 14 000 000 chance of winning the lottery jackpot in the UK, but most weeks someone wins it.
- Each individual’s risk (or odds or chance) will vary from the average because of the many variables such as age, gender, location, etc.
Remember Be Sensible
Over recent years the HSE has campaigned for a sensible approach to the assessment and management of risk
Sensible health and safety risk management is about saving lives, and preventing injuries and illness, not about stopping business from working. In particular sensible risk management should:
- Ensure that workers and the public are properly protected;
- Provide an overall benefit to society by balancing benefits and risks, with a focus on reducing real risks, i.e. those which arise most often and those with serious consequences;
- Enable innovation and learning and not stifle them;
- Ensure that those who create risks manage them responsibly and understand that failure to manage real risks responsibly will lead to robust action; and
- Enable individuals to understand that as well as the right to protection, they also have to exercise responsibility.