Health and Safety: The need for Risk assessment in the workplace
The need for Risk assessment in the workplace
Over the last five years, accident reports sent to HSE and local authorities show that nearly 60 employees were killed and 5000 seriously injured in haulage and distribution – simply doing their job. Another 23 000 suffered injuries severe enough to keep them off work more than three days. These figures take no account of work-related ill health, for example from bad backs or stress. This represents a higher rate of accidents to employees than either construction or agriculture, both widely regarded as hazardous industries.
Health and safety is seen by many people as so much paperwork, red tape, expense and boring rules and regulations that are difficult to understand and stop you running your business easily. Even if you don’t think this way, many people in business believe that because they have had few or no accidents all that is needed is basic common sense. Relying on people to use their common sense works fine until something does go wrong. When that means someone gets killed or seriously injured, it can suddenly look like an inadequate approach. Too many employers live to regret not taking health and safety more seriously before an accident, rather than after one of their employees has been badly injured at work.
Almost all deaths arise from just four kinds of accident, most often during loading and unloading or maintenance of vehicles:
■ being struck by a moving vehicle;
■ falling loads;
■ falls from vehicles;
■ collapsing or overturning vehicles.
Issues such as use of handbrakes, safe positioning of drivers during loading and unloading with fork-lift trucks, propping of vehicles during repair work and climbing up on vehicles have to be tackled.
Again, most injuries (more than seven out of ten) are due to just four causes:
■ slips and trips;
■ being struck by moving or falling objects;
■ falls from less than 2 m; and
■ manual handling. Most of these happen to drivers during loading and unloading, though many slips occur during other work.
By law, employers and duty holders must:
know what hazards and risks are in their workplaces; and
take steps to eliminate or reduce these risks.
You must control the risks in your workplace. Risk assessment is about identifying and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control these risks. You are probably already taking steps to protect your employees, but your risk assessment will help you decide whether you should be doing more.
Think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause the most harm. Monitor your workplace activities involving vehicles (including visiting vehicles) over a reasonable period to build up a clear picture of vehicle and pedestrian traffic movements including, for example, loading and unloading, or collecting waste.
Think about new designs/layouts before they are put in place. Also think about the effect of any changes in how things are done, e.g. different types of vehicle, or having to use different or new routes.
Some workers in your workplace may have particular requirements, for example new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors and lone workers.
Generally, you need to do everything reasonably practicable to protect people from harm. This simply means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.
More guidance on risk assessment can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/risk. Also look at the ‘Workplace transport checklist’ on HSE’s website to help you identify the risks in your workplace.
A risk assessment is a careful examination of what, in your work, could harm people. It helps you decide whether you have done enough to prevent anyone coming to harm, or need to do more.
By law, the risk assessment must be ‘suitable and sufficient’. This means it must be good enough to protect people from any harm that you can predict. Your risk assessment does not need to be complicated or technical. Most employers carry out risk assessments during the normal course of their work.
For example, if you were to hire a new driver, you would identify how much information, instruction or training they will need to do their work without making mistakes or causing accidents. By recognising that there are risks associated with having new drivers, and then deciding what precautions to take, you do a risk assessment and act on it.
We recommend this five-step process to carry out a risk assessment:
- Identify the hazards – E.g. Loading/Unloading vehicles, Coupling and uncoupling
- Decide who can be harmed and how. – E.g. Could drivers be injured by climbing onto the vehicle. Could pedestrians be injured due to contact with a reversing vehicle?
- Evaluate the risks.
The risk posed by each hazard is the chance or probability that somebody will be harmed (high or low), and how seriously they might be harmed (seriously or not). High risks are ones where someone is very likely to be harmed or where the harm is likely to be serious (or both).
- Record your findings.
If your business has 5 or more employees then it must be written down.
- Review the Risk assessment regularly.
You should review the risk assessment form regularly, to check that it is still relevant. Each risk assessment should include a date for when a review is due, which should take account of the type of work and the speed of changes, which are likely to be different for every workplace.
In one of the case studies detailed below, it was a change in operations that was the major factor in causing the fatal accident.
Penalties for non-compliance
Poor control of the working environment may result in action from HSE or local authorities. Transport risks, falls from height and manual handling are all priority areas for enforcing authorities, and all are common causes of accidents in road haulage. Fines of up to £20 000 can be imposed for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, with unlimited fines and imprisonment possible if cases are heard in higher courts.
Directors and managers can face prosecution as individuals if their acts or omissions led to the offence. HSE and local authority inspectors will be looking closely at all work activities that cause most harm, including transport, work at height and simple slips and trips. Acting to control such risks will help save you falling foul of the law.
Remember, revocation of your operating licence is a possibility when offences come to the attention of the Traffic Commissioners.
If you’re in need of health and safety support, get in touch with the HPC team today:
T: 0844 800 5932