Risk Assessment Reform Is On Its Way

Risk Assessment Reform Is On Its Way

02nd March 2016

The UK government is determined to cut compliance costs for companies which means that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently making plans to reduce the impact of “disproportionate” risk assessment paperwork. 

Risk assessments have to take place in order to provide a safe and healthy workplace and there’s been a legal requirement to carry out a formal risk assessment and make a written record of it.  The term “risk assessment” did not appear in UK safety law until the late eighties with the Control of Lead at Work Regulations and later with the first COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations.  The broad application of COSHH is a result of the fact that just about every organisation uses something harmful somewhere within the organisation so the necessity of carrying out a formal risk assessment has become widespread.

Businesses here in the UK actively welcomed these goal setting requirements as it represented freedom from the old style prescriptive safety requirements.  Then the UK entered into the European Union with the Brussels style employment law agenda and there are now two principles that make sense when considered separately but can create a legal nightmare when considered in tandem. 

The first principle relates to the mental process of risk assessment – thinking about what you are about to do so that you know how to do it safely – a “real” risk assessment.  The second principle is that if something is a requirement then there must be a way of proving that it has been met.  The easiest way of doing this is to make a written record of the risk assessment which covers such activities as checking that a crane is in good working order, logging a scaffolding check, etc. 

However, when the two principles are coupled together problems can arise.  There are legal requirements for a raft of risk assessments, both general and specific which a requirement to make a written record of the main findings in each case which may lead to a host of problems, including:

·         A waste or resources which are then not available for other more productive activities.

·         A false sense of security among safety professionals who believe that they have done everything possible to protect people.

·         Tokenism – the main thing that matters is that the form has been filled in correctly and the quality of the decision making behind it becomes irrelevant.

·         Safety specialists’ reputations suffering as the media and the public mock “’elf and safety gone mad”.

The HSE plans to introduce greater flexibility in record keeping with new guidance available in December 2016.  The HSE is looking for ways in which businesses are able to comply with their duties without incurring unnecessary costs or difficulties in achieving them.  It’s hoped that the new measures will represent sensible improvements to secure compliance without compromising standards.  The outcome of effective and proportionate risk management is more important than the paperwork involved.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments and will pass on any news on this matter as soon as it is available to us.