Risk assessment: where people miss the mark

For the last 40 years, the approach to health and safety has been based on the concept of assessing risks. For very good reasons, the methodology is not prescriptive, but this has meant that quite often there are gaps in what people do.

The biggest mistake I often see is that people don’t understand the real reason for carrying out risk assessments. In my opinion, the prime purpose is to identify gaps in control measures and the outcome of such identification is the compilation of an action plan to address these gaps. The item that is quite often missing is this action plan.

People will also often record a control measure that nominally addresses the risk, but then fail to realise that such a control measure may need other actions to keep it working.

For example, guards interlocked to the control system may be provided so that the machine is forced into a safer mode when the guard is open. It may be prevented from running, be only able to be jogged or whatever.

However, if there is no inbuilt crosschecking of the interlock, unless it is periodically checked, you have no assurance that it will force the safe mode when required, and therefore the risk creeps upwards. Your action plan needs the scheduled check of interlocks.

Then there are other actions which may be necessary because a high-level action is not practical. For example, it is impossible to guard a forklift truck, but you can have systems of work that exclude people from the area in which they operate, restrict the driving to trained drivers, etc.

Therefore, I’d expect the risk assessment to include:

  1. Risks and the controls already in place;
  2. Any actions to keep these controls in place;
  3. Actions required to establish new controls; and
  4. Actions to minimise a residual risk.

Rather than leaving these in individual risk assessments, I always transpose these into an action plan, so you can have a single document to which you refer.

Which brings me onto the scoring of risks. There are many ways you can score risks, but whichever method you use you need to transfer the scoring to the action plan so that the actions are arranged in descending order of risk.

Don’t confuse being busy with being effective; you need to tackle the big issues first rather than those which are easy to do. Again, this is something I quite often see missing.

The penultimate activity I see missing is that of verifying that any control measure that you’ve put in place actually works and does not introduce other risks. For example, near where I live a chicane has been introduced to reduce speeds, but the chicane has been positioned on the approach to a roundabout.

So, vehicles are forced onto the right hand side of the road so that they meet traffic exiting the roundabout. So the likelihood of a crash has increased, but it would be at a slower speed. In my opinion, the new control measure has still increased the risk.

Most people are aware of the continuous improvement Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. This verification is the ‘check’ part of the cycle following the ‘plan’ and ‘do’ parts of risk assessment and the introduction of control measures. And if it doesn’t work, then that’s where the ‘act’ part comes in.

Finally, you need to update risk assessments with your new control measures and their impact. Risk assessment isn’t something that is done once and then forgotten, it is part of your on-going safety management programme.

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Organising firework displays

Firework displays should be enjoyable and spectacular occasions – but they obviously need some responsible planning. The good news is that there is straightforward guidance to help you.

If you are organising a major public event, you will clearly need a robust and detailed approach to planning as well as professional involvement. If you are holding a local firework display, such as those organised by many sports clubs, schools or parish councils, you still need to plan responsibly, but the same level of detail is not necessary or expected. Below are some tips and guidance to help you.

Before the event:

  • Think about who will operate the display. There is no reason why you should not light a display yourselves provided it only contains fireworks in categories 1, 2 and 3. but remember, category 4 fireworks may only be used by professional firework display operators. In untrained hands they can be lethal.
  • Consider whether the site is suitable and large enough for your display, including a bonfire if you are having one. Is there space for the fireworks to land well away from spectators? Remember to check in daylight for overhead power lines and other obstructions. What is the direction of the prevailing wind? What would happen if it changed?
  • Think about what you would do if things go wrong. Make sure there is someone who will be responsible for calling the emergency services
  • Make sure you obtain the fireworks from a reputable supplier.
  • If the display is to be provided by a professional firework display operator make sure that you are clear on who does what especially in the event of an emergency
  • Ensure you have a suitable place to store the fireworks. Your firework supplier or local authority should be able to advise
  • If you plan on selling alcohol the bar should be well away from the display site

On the day of the event:

  • Recheck the site, weather conditions and wind direction
  • Don’t let anyone into the zone where the fireworks will fall – or let anyone other than the display operator or firing team into the firing zone or the safety zone around it
  • Discourage spectators from bringing drink onto the site
  • Don’t let spectators bring their own fireworks onto the site
  • If you will also have a bonfire at the display then you should:
    • Check the structure is sound and does not have small children or animals inside it before lighting it
    • Not use petrol or paraffin to light the fire
    • Have only one person responsible for lighting the fire. That person, and any helpers, should wear suitable clothing eg a substantial outer garment made of wool or other low-flammable material.
    • Make sure that the person lighting the fire and any helpers know what to do in the event of a burn injury or clothing catching fire
  • Never attempt to relight fireworks. Keep well clear of fireworks that have failed to go off

The morning after:

  • Carefully check and clear the site. Dispose of fireworks safely. They should never be burnt in a confined space (eg a boiler)

Additional points to consider if you are organising a major public display

For major displays, particularly those involving category 4 ‘professional’ fireworks or very large number of spectators, a more robust approach is obviously needed.

  • Plan and mark out the areas for spectators, firing fireworks (and a safety zone around it) as well as an area where the fireworks will fall
  • Think about how people will get into and out of the site. Keep pedestrian and vehicle routes apart if possible. Mark exit routes clearly and ensure they are well lit. Ensure emergency vehicles can get access to the site
  • Appoint enough stewards/marshals. Make sure they understand what they are to do on the night and what they should do in the event of an emergency
  • Contact the emergency services and local authority. If your site is near an airport you may need to contact them
  • Signpost the first aid facilities


Although it is not required by health and safety law, if you are holding a public firework display, it’s a good idea to have public liability insurance. Bear in mind that not all companies are used to dealing with this type of event, and as with any other type of insurance, it’s worth shopping around: look for a company that’s used to insuring firework and other public events – you are likely to get much better deal and avoid unsuitable terms and conditions. If you have difficulty with the standard insurance terms, TALK to your insurer and find a way forward; they can be very helpful.

Further guidance

Giving your own firework display (HSE Guide HS(G) 124)

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Posted software Health*Surv







The software allows you to manage quickly and complete surveillance visits of workers and reduce mistakes, work time and allowing companies and consultants to properly plan health management.

Access to video and guide











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The mistakes people make when managing noise

I quite often come across companies who have received incorrect advice about noise and have got into difficulties when trying to enforce the wearing of hearing protection. This goes against one of the key approaches to effective health and safety management, which is that you can “sell” the control measures to those affected. So where are the mistakes being made?

Noise level and noise exposure

In most cases, the legal requirements relate to noise exposure and not noise level. The only time this is not true is where you have high peak noise levels, say from nail guns. Noise exposure is the combination of noise level and the time to which you are exposed to it. Because noise is measured using a logarithmic scale, dB, you cannot multiply noise level by the exposure time, as you would multiply electrical power by time to get energy in kWh.

What we have instead is a daily equivalent noise exposure (Lep,D) which is specified in dB, ie exactly the same units as noise level. And that is where the confusion arises. An Lep,D of 80 dB is a pattern of exposure to maybe different levels for different times which gives you the same noise ‘dose’ as a continuous level of 80 dB for 8 hours.

Mistake No. 1: Noise level

This leads us to the first mistake: people will take the worst-case noise level on a machine and base their requirements on this. One recent case I came across was a hopper that had a noise level of 85 dB(A) when standing next to it. But once it was loaded, you didn’t need to go anywhere near it. The other parts of the extensive machine were much quieter, but following the consultant’s advice, the company had a mandatory hearing protection requirement on the whole line because of the hopper noise.

Mistake No. 2: Duration

Another case had an 85 dB(A) noise level when next to one part of the machine which was never accessed when it was running. What actually happened was that it took 10 minutes to set up the machine, at about 75 dB(A), and then a very short run length of about 20 minutes during which the operators were exposed to about 81 dB(A). The run lengths and noise levels in different positions were not taken into account by the assessor and the company were having difficulties enforcing their mandatory hearing protection policy.

So how do we measure noise exposure?

There are two ways of doing this.

Sampling monitors

These may be a badge type that operators wear over a significant period, say a complete shift. Data from these can then be downloaded to a PC which will give you both an Lep,D value and a graph. They give a very accurate snapshot during that shift, but are limited in their ‘what if?’ capability.

Level measurement and calculation

The other approach is to measure noise levels for different activities or positions on the machine and then use these and the exposure times to calculate the noise exposure.

This is less accurate than sampling monitors as it does depend on getting the exposure durations correct, but it has the big advantage of being able to ask questions like, “What is the effect of short or longer production runs?”

You can either use the ‘ready reckoner’ process[1] or spreadsheets to calculate the exposure. I created the Strategic Safety Systems spreadsheet[2] many years ago for this purpose, but the HSE have recently introduced their own[3].

By far the best approach is to use both methods. Use the level measurement/calculation method to test the sensitivity of the noise exposure to different conditions and take samples for the snapshot and use these to cross-reference your calculations.

Mistake No. 3 Reliance on hearing protection

As with all risks, personal protective equipment is the least preferred control measure. However, some organisations fail to take even simple measures to control noise at source.

One recent example was a continuous waste stream from a roll label press which passed down a tube made from 40mm plastic pipe. The noise it made as it rubbed on the edge of this pipe was amplified by the pipe’s megaphone effect and caused a noise level of 86 dB(A). Preventing this pipe rubbing action by a bit of coat hanger wire reduced the noise level to 78 dB(A). The operators had complained but the company had not taken this action.

Mandatory hearing protection areas

In some cases, noise assessments will conclude that an area is one where the wearing of hearing protection is mandatory. There are several questions you must address:

Does the high noise exposure occur only when the machine is running?

If so, you need to put a statement under the mandatory signs saying “only when machine is running”.

If there are short-term visitors, do they need to wear PPE?

Technically, their exposure is low, but in my opinion, the only way you can “police” your control measures is to require everyone to wear hearing protection.

Is there an exception to this?

The one exception to this is where the exposure of some people is low and the wearing of PPE increases other risks. I have one client who has equipment that requires mandatory PPE for operators but forklift trucks deliver material occasionally. The forklift truck drivers have a low noise exposure and, were they to wear hearing protection, then other risks would increase. What they have done is make it clear to all people by methods including notices, that short-term visits by forklift trucks do not require the wearing of hearing protection.

Noise can be a major health hazard, but if it is approached sensibly, then the risks can be controlled.
1.     [1] HSE ready reckoner: www.hse.gov.uk/noise/dailyexposure.pdf
2.     [2] SSS spreadsheet: www.strategicsafety.co.uk/Excel/NoiseCalc.xls
3.     [3] HSE spreadsheet: www.hse.gov.uk/noise/dailycalc.xls

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What kind of Health and Safety Professional are You?

In your networking of safety professionals, including working with/for different folks, have you noticed any Safety Archetypes in those people you interact with?  I have and I’ve compiled a quick list of the types of people I’ve encountered.  Maybe you have other examples – and I would love to hear about them.  And this is all in-fun so any resemblance to people real or imaginary is completely intentional – I mean totally coincidental.

The Safety Cheerleader
The safety cheerleader has limitless, positive energy in their message delivery: “Rah-rah Safety!”  Sometimes the safety cheerleader can start a safety wave but keeping that wave going can be a challenge.  The message delivery can get annoying, especially when the message is lacking in substance.

The Safety Professor
The safety professor can cite all the latest statistics and obscure authors and studies that prove some point or another.  Though they have that “factual basis” nailed, sometimes it is a challenge to translate that learning into something a general (and sometimes under-educated) workforce can understand.

The Safety Psychologist
Safety psychologists are all about figuring out that black box of human behavior.    They always seem to be taking notes.  They tend to be focused on staff’s motivations and sometimes offer psychoanalysis: “You had an accident?  So, tell me about your mother…  I see… Was she too controlling when she told you to look both ways before crossing the street?  How did that make you feel?  Very interesting.”

The Safety Ghost
The safety ghost is seldom seen in the office or in the field, but they are always very busy as evidenced by their ever-full calendar.  Often they are too busy to attend meetings or walk-the-floor.  However you know they exist because from time to time a new practice or procedure materializes from the aether that is mandatory for staff to follow.  These documents don’t always reflect how business or the task is actually done.

The Safety Bully
The safety bully uses belittling and humiliation to get their message across.  If a colleague does something wrong, or doesn’t get it, it must be their limitation and they must be singled out for public ridicule.   The bully is adept at the use peer pressure to get workers on the popular bandwagon.  Staff will often do the right thing just to stay off the safety bully’s radar.

The Safety Visionary
The safety visionary has a prophetic agenda and is on a mission to get it done.  They can be very persuasive.  They are always right which makes anyone that disagrees or dissents wrong. Sometimes the safety visionary will send out questionable information and expect people to come to exactly the same conclusion that he/she did.  Other times there is the expectation of faith.  On occasion the visionary is a guru that can move mountains for change.  On other occasions, the sophist ascends in search of a new flock.

The Safety Salesman
“Come one!  Come all!  Step right up!  I have a new safety program, never before seen by western eyes!  Fresh from the exotic orient where Shinto monks developed this ultimate weapon over hundreds of years for the battle of effective safety performance!  You need this!  You want this!  It will solve all your health and safety workplace problems.”   The safety salesperson can be great at building momentum and starting initiatives. Often times they’re gone before the smoke clears and that value is (un)realized.

The Safety Coach
The safety coach can be a great source of inspiration and motivation.  However the relationship might be one of love or hate.  They’re either the person with the plan that keeps the team focused, or they’re the person that just won’t stop yelling at you for not following the plan.  Either way, the safety coach is a mentor with tons of valuable experience and proven success under his/her belt.

The Safety Advisor
The safety advisor is very learned and/or innovative when it comes to advising anyone on the vision, planning, or execution of health and safety programs.  They know all the best practices and standards and can tell you how to apply them.  The trouble with the safety advisor is that they don’t always take a position on an issue – because they’re not in a position to tell you what to do and how to do it.  If they did that then it wouldn’t be advice…

The Safety Grandfather
The safety grandfather (or grandmother) is that old, wizened safety professional that knows everyone and everything that has ever been attempted.  They are the keepers of the corporate knowledge.  They easily fall into story telling about “back when I was a young whipper-snapper” that can get just as easily tuned out after you hear the same story 100 times.  Usually there is a lot of reverence for the old-timer that can turn to questioning relevance or utility.  Just because something has been done a certain way for 20 years doesn’t necessarily make it the right way for today.

The Safety Dictator
The safety dictator rules with an iron fist.  “You must have the right credentials.  You must be in on time.  Do exactly what I say without question.  No one asked you for your opinion.”  Usually the safety dictator surrounds himself/herself with a self-reinforcing clique.  These enforcers are good at managing-up and reporting-up.   The flow of information is tightly controlled and the organizational chain-of-command is strictly enforced.  When the safety staff is run by fear they often exhibit a strong sense of urgency (and exhibit high attrition.)

The Safety Hysteric/Alarmist
“The sky is falling!  OMG we’re all going to die (if we don’t do this right now)!”  The safety alarmist will definitely communicate to anyone in broadcast range that something needs to be done immediately or face impending, terrible peril.  Sometimes this generates a lot of activity with little measurable benefit.  At worst, like in the boy that cried wolf, the townsfolk can become blasé if and when a real emergency comes along.

The Safety Buddy
The safety buddy is everyone’s friend.  They take the soft sell approach to safety and walk the fine line between best friend and nagging spouse.   Though it is always nice to be reminded of the right thing to do, the safety buddy can suffer from a perceived complete lack of authority.

The Safety Magician
The safety magician is master at accomplishing the impossible and implausible.  By waving a magic safety wand all problems can be solved.  Management isn’t always sure how they do it, but results are results.  However, magic is the art of deception.  Houses of cards easily fall and illusions are not real.

The Safety Realist
The safety realist is both practical and pragmatic in their approach to delivering programs and guidance.  The realist is driven by a desire to add value and be a partner in the business.  There is an aire of no nonsense and a skill of keeping the eyes on the prize.  The safety realist may not be the most popular or loudest member on the team, but they are usually trusted and respected.

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EU-OSHA campaign calls on employers and workers to tackle work-related stress

EU-OSHA launches a two year Europe-wide campaign: ‘Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress’.

Speaking at the campaign launch in Brussels, László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and Greek Deputy Minister for Labour, Social Security and Welfare, Vasilis Kegkeroglou, representing the Greek EU Council Presidency, called on Europe’s enterprises to recognise the need to tackle work-related stress. By doing so, they will be protecting their workers’ health and their organisations’ productivity.

Christa Sedlatschek, EU-OSHA Director explained that together employers, workers and their representatives can successfully manage and prevent work-related stress and psychosocial risks; and that the Healthy Workplaces Campaign aims to help organisations do just that.

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USA – OSHA renews strategic partnership with electrical transmission and distribution contractors, associations to reduce worker injuries, deaths

WASHINGTON – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration today renewed a national strategic partnership with employers, workers and professional associations in the electrical transmission and distribution industry to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths among linesman and other electrical workers. The partnership includes ten of the nation’s largest electrical transmission and distribution contractors, an electrical industry labor union and two trade associations, representing about 80% of the industry.

Since its establishment in 2004, there has been a noticeable reduction in the injury, illness and fatality rates among the partners’ workers, which include close to 26,000 workers. Fatalities among these workers have dropped from 11 in 2004 to 1 in 2013.

“By working on common goals through the partnership, partner injury, illness and fatality rates have been reduced,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Through this national partnership, the partner companies and associations looked at factors causing fatal incidents and other serious injuries and implemented changes to reduce and prevent the number of fatalities not only within their own companies, but in the industry as a whole. We look forward to seeing even greater outcomes of this partnership in the future.”

The partnership has developed and implemented best practices that directly correspond to key hazards and operations associated with injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the industry. These practices include fall protection, the use of specific insulating protective equipment and the implementation of safety checks. The partnership also has trained more than 33,000 workers and supervisors through industry-specific courses developed by the partners. OSHA and industry partners are in the process of expanding these courses to provide industry-wide training.

Members of the partnership include Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Davis H. Elliot Co. Inc., Henkels & McCoy Inc., MasTec Inc., MDU Construction Services Group Inc., Michels Corp., MYR Group Inc., PLH Group, Pike Electric LLC, Quanta Services Inc., International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Edison Electric Institute and the National Electrical Contractors Association. For more information, see OSHA’s Web page on the partnership.

This is one of several national partnerships. OSHA’s Strategic Partnership Program helps encourage, assist and recognize the efforts of partners to eliminate serious workplace hazards and achieve a high level of worker safety and health. Most strategic partnerships seek to have a broad impact by building cooperative relationships with groups of employers and workers. These partnerships are voluntary relations among OSHA, employers, worker representatives and others including trade unions, trade and professional associations, universities and other government agencies.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.


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European Parliament pilot project on health and safety of older worker

The European Commission has concluded a delegation agreement with EU-OSHA on a pilot project on the health and safety of older workers. According to this agreement, EU-OSHA will assist the Commission in implementing arequest by the European Parliament on this topic. The pilot project began in June 2013 and runs until the end of 2015.

The project, Safer and healthier work at any age – occupational safety and health (OSH) in the context of an ageing workforce aims to assess the prerequisites for OSH strategies and systems to take account of an ageing workforce and ensure better prevention for all throughout working life. The results will assist policy development and provide examples of successful and innovative practices. In doing so, the work aims to highlight what works well, what needs to be done or prioritised and to identify the main drivers and obstacles to effective implementation of policy initiatives in this area. The project builds on existing European work on sustainable work, for example, that of Eurofound.

The project is investigating:

  • OSH policies, strategies, programmes and actions in relation to older workers in EU member states and beyond
  • policies, strategies and actions regarding employability and return-to-work in member states and beyond
  • case studies of support programmes and initiatives at the workplace
  • views of OSH stakeholders, employers, workers and worker representatives exploring their experiences, motivations, needs and challenges
  • tools and guidance to assist workplaces in managing OSH in relation to an ageing workforce
  • gender-related issues

An afternoon meeting to report on progress will take place on 2nd of December 2013 in the European Parliament, and a conference is planned for June 2015 to present and discuss the draft final report, its findings and proposals for policy and practice.

More on older workers

The decision of the European Parliament is given in the Official Journal of the European Communities 29.02.2012 Chapter 0404—Employment, Social Solidarity and Gender Equality, II/230  – II/231


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Keep up! Making sense and staying compliant

Date and location

Wednesday 26 February, The Midland Hotel, Peter St, Manchester, M60 2DS

Event overview

The aim of the conference is to help attendees keep abreast of key health and safety developments. Expert speakers include Paul Cook from the HSE with an update on HSE’s review of guidance and regulatory lawyer Lee Hughes discussing leading cases. Peter Savage, COO from St John Ambulance will cover changes to first aid at work.

Booking and further information

To view the full speaker list and for more information visit the Britsafe ‘Keep up! Making sense and staying compliant link to external website‘ event page, alternatively emailcustomer.service@britsafe.org or tel: +44 (0)20 8741 1231


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Record your findings and implement them

Click here to more information

Putting the results of your risk assessment into practice will make a difference when looking after people and your business.

Writing down the results of your risk assessment, and sharing them with your staff, encourages you to do this. If you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write anything down.

When writing down your results, keep it simple, for example ‘Tripping over rubbish: bins provided, staff instructed, weekly housekeeping checks’, or ‘Fume from welding: local exhaust ventilation used and regularly checked’.

We do not expect a risk assessment to be perfect, but it must be suitable and sufficient. As illustrated by our example risk assessments, you need to be able to show that:

  • a proper check was made;
  • you asked who might be affected;
  • you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved;
  • the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low; and
  • you involved your staff or their representatives in the process.

Download the Risk Assessment and Policy Template Word document. This template brings together your risk assessment, health and safety policy and record of health and safety arrangements into one document to help get you started and save you time. If you already have a health and safety policy, you may choose to simply complete the risk assessment part of the template. Use the example risk assessments as a guide for completing the template, adapting it for your own workplace.

If, like many businesses, you find that there are quite a lot of improvements that you could make, big and small, don’t try to do everything at once. Make a plan of action to deal with the most important things first. Health and safety inspectors acknowledge the efforts of businesses that are clearly trying to make improvements.
A good plan of action often includes a mixture of different things such as:

  • a few cheap or easy improvements that can be done quickly, perhaps as a temporary solution until more reliable controls are in place;
  • long-term solutions to those risks most likely to cause accidents or ill health;
  • long-term solutions to those risks with the worst potential consequences;
  • arrangements for training employees on the main risks that remain and how they are to be controlled;
  • regular checks to make sure that the control measures stay in place; and
  • clear responsibilities – who will lead on what action and by when.

Remember, prioritise and tackle the most important things first. As you complete each action, tick it off your plan.

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