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HSE simplifies guidance on risk assessments

each assessment consumes a great deal of time, effort and resources. To counter this, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is now telling businesses to spend less time attending to the fine details of health and safety management; instead more time should be spent on putting practical actions into effect.

Since 1993 the HSE has offered a guide, 'Five Steps to Risk Assessment', with the aim of demystifying the process and making it accessible to non-experts. Nevertheless, the feeling is that risk assessments are still not being carried out properly by enough businesses. According to HSE statistics, last year 220 workers were killed and 361 members of the public were fatally injured following workplace incidents. Furthermore, during the same period 150,559 major and over-three-day injuries were reported. 35 million working days were lost overall (1.5 days per worker), 28 million of which were due to work-related ill health and 7 million due to workplace injury. It is likely that many of these deaths and injuries could have been avoided if risk assessments had been carried out in line with the HSE's guidance.

In a move that appears to acknowledge that part of the problem may actually be the guidance, the HSE has revised its 'Five Steps to Risk Assessment', which now features examples that spell out, in plain English, what is – and what is not – expected.

Launching the guidance, the HSE’s Deputy Chief Executive, Jonathan Rees, said: "We want to save lives, not tie businesses up in red tape – good risk assessment is the way to achieve this. Risk assessment is at the heart of sensible health and safety. We believe it should be a practical way of protecting people from real harm and suffering, not a bureaucratic back-covering exercise. On its own, paperwork never saved a life; it needs to be a means to an end, resulting in actions that protect people in practice.

"I hope that this new, more straightforward guidance will help managers understand what is expected of them and get more focus on the kind of risks that cause real harm and suffering – the ones that killed 220 workers last year and resulted in 35 million working days being lost. This guide takes the user through the process step by step with the minimum of fuss to achieve this aim."

The guidance has been revised and simplified to make it even easier for normal business people, not just health and safety experts, to use. It also places greater emphasis on making sure that decisions are actually put into practice.

'Five Steps to Risk Assessment' provides advice and tips on five key elements that are required for an effective risk assessment: identifying the hazards; deciding who might be harmed and how; evaluating the risks and deciding on precautions; recording findings and implementing them; and, finally, ensuring they are reviewed at regular intervals.

This is supported by four examples of what a risk assessment might look like for an office, a motor vehicle repair shop, a warehouse, and for contract bricklayers. The examples help emphasise that risk assessment need not be difficult and the paperwork need not be long and complicated; in most cases bullet points work very well.

Copies of Five Steps to Risk Assessment, INDG163(rev2), are available from HSE Books or a PDF version can be downloaded for free from the new risk management web pages on the HSE's website. These web pages are written in everyday language - for managers rather than health and safety experts - and include links to good practice guidance for specific industries, frequently asked questions and expert guidance.

For those who need more specific advice, Pilz Automation Technology offers a range of health and safety training courses including a unique IOSH 'Managing Safely combined with Machinery and Work Equipment Safety' course.

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