Risk Assessment (RA) is seen as both an operations-based and systems-based leading indicator in Safety Management. It helps managers understand where hazards are in the workplace and how to control them to avoid injury or illness to workers; however, keeping on top of dozens of records can be a complex task and manually maintaining an efficient Risk Assessment review schedule even more demanding. Here we revisit why ongoing reviews are a key part of keeping RAs in the ‘lead’, and how you can manage them with ease.
Purpose of a risk assessment
Risk Assessment is the identification of hazards and the subsequent management of those hazards. It is a common and required method of safety management in workplaces. In essence, it is what health and safety management is all about!
OSHA defines a Risk Assessment as “nothing more than a careful examination of what, in your workplace, could cause harm to persons, to enable you to decide whether you have taken sufficient precautions or need to do more to prevent harm”. Seems simple, but managing the process and staying ahead of compliance can be challenging.
How to perform a risk assessment
Risk Assessments usually follow a five-step process that is widely adopted in industry, comparing the severity of harm against the likelihood of harm occurring to generate a risk score.
The five steps are:
- Look for hazards
- Who might be harmed?
- Is more needed to control the risk?
- Record your findings
- Review and revision planning
Reviewing a risk assessment
But following this sequence just once is not enough. Workplaces are constantly changing – as time goes by there will be new equipment, substances and procedures. These can lead to new hazards, so it makes sense to perform Risk Assessment reviews on an ongoing basis.
Section 13A of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 2004 (US) details the requirement to review a Risk Assessment when there has been a change to circumstances; and if you’ve got over five employees, you must record your RA findings. When using a Safety Management System (SMS) this can be done electronically, meaning you can easily locate past Risk Assessments when it is time to review them.
So what’s the process for review? It is relatively simple and similar to the five steps you followed in the first place. Whilst going through these steps again in a review, the HSE (UK) recommends that you ask yourself:
- Has there been any significant changes?
- Are there improvements you still need to make?
- Have your workers spotted a problem?
- Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?
Investigating these questions case by case will ensure you are performing a thorough review.
Do I need to review risk assessments on a schedule?
Most Safety Managers know that reviews should not only be done when there has been a change to matters – it is best practice to review Risk Assessments on a regular schedule. OSHA echoes this notion:
“… it is good practice to review your assessment from time to time to makes sure that the precautions are still working effectively.”
There is no legal time frame for this, but the HSE recommends they are reviewed annually. However, workplaces that are proactive in safety management usually have their own targets.
Risk Assessments as a leading indicator
An ongoing schedule that is honored will ensure your Risk Assessment findings remain effective and leading in nature. A leading indicator suggests that an event may happen in the future, and this prediction is based on what previous trends show. So how are risk assessments leading indicators? In its guide to such metrics, the Campbell Institute explains:
“… the indicator of risk assessment contains a metric not only for the number of assessments conducted, but also the percent of assessments that have been reevaluated for validity.”
For example, measuring the punctuation of risk assessment reviews against risk-level findings of such reviews could show that more frequent reevaluations is an effective method of risk reduction. As management, your Risk Assessment review schedule is for you to decide.
Managing Risk Assessment reviews
Now, how do you handle all of this? And what happens with all the data? That is the next chapter of the story.
The management of Risk Assessments and reviews is made a lot easier by using a Safety Management System (SMS) – although surprisingly, it is estimated that around 50% of companies still rely on paper forms and spreadsheets to collect safety data. With an SMS, all Risk Assessments are stored as records; are searchable; and are visible across the business, making the process as smooth and reliable as possible.
If you aren’t already using an SMS or are unsatisfied with your software’s performance, here are a few typical features of management systems that you can assess your current process against.
Set automated review reminders
With an SMS, you can set and manage the automation of reminders to review. Review dates can be set based on number of days since assessment, triggering reminders – for example – 30 days, 7 days, 3 days before it is due and providing further notifications or escalation when it becomes overdue. For Safety Managers, this removes the burden of remembering or manually maintaining a list of due dates – us humans are a lot more forgetful than algorithms!
Furthermore, the status of Risk Assessment reviews is visible within the system in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) style, with Red-Amber-Green indicators based on how close to due date/overdue the review has become. The ability to easily measure performance against targets makes planning for improvement a much more efficient process.
Assign and track Corrective and Preventative Actions (CAPAs)
Another benefit of using an SMS to manage your Risk Assessments is the ability to set follow up actions. These can be assigned as part of an initial assessment or, indeed, as part of a review. The status of Corrective and Preventative Actions (CAPAs) raised from Risk Assessments is displayed within the SMS in KPI fashion. This means management can stay on top of actions and personnel are clear on what is required of them and when. If a safety critical action is not fulfilled on time, those who need to know about it can be notified automatically.
Defining Safe Systems of Work (SSOW)
A product of Risk Assessment (RA), Safe Systems of Work (SSOW) definitions are a legal requirement. An SSOW is a documented ‘safe’ procedure that results from an examination of a working process.
Like RA records, the volume of SSOW documents can build up. With Safety Management Software these are stored and categorized in a searchable library; one central location for all to access. A revised Risk Assessment that finds new hazards may mean a Safe System of Work also needs to also be updated, so it’s useful to utilize SSOW records that maintain their link to their relevant RA records.
You’ll also want to track version changes, a feature that you may be familiar with if you already use collaboration platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint, and one that is extremely beneficial when being audited by the likes of OSHA.
Reduce effort by using templates
In an organization with hundreds of operations or jobs going on every day, dozens of Risk Assessments (RAs) will be produced and stored. When creating a new RA or conducting a review, an efficient way to get started is with the use of templates. An employer can define risk assessment review templates and make them available to assessors through their Safety Management System.
Templates guide the assessor to ensure all required aspects of a review are completed, much like with the five-step process. Additionally, templates can increase efficiency by providing repeated information in less time, and can actually encourage someone to get started on a review. According to research, there are many reasons people procrastinate – two of which templates can address:
- skill deficiency, “I don’t know how to do it,”
- and inertia, “I just can’t seem to get started.”
(However, even the best template can’t replace sufficient training and support!)
Producing reports to identify trends and instigate corrections
Besides managing data collection, a major benefit of deploying a Safety Management System is the ability to assess performance. Risk Assessments produce heavy amounts of data that, when applied in the right way, can be valuable leading indicators that highlight trends throughout the business. If a plant is producing high-risk Risk Assessments more frequently than it used to, or more often than its equivalent in another location, you’ll know to investigate and correct the cause.
However, EHS Managers are self-professed not business intelligence (BI) experts. Sometimes BI technologies are extremely confusing and overwhelming. EHS personnel need to be equipped with information that is;
- Easy to get to;
- Easy to drill into.
Analytics has become an expected module of modern Safety software, but it can be a very complex one for vendors to get right. No two organizations are the same, and neither are the safety metrics they track. To get meaningful information for your specific safety profile you should look for flexibility in your SMS.
You may also consider leading technologies for BI that exist on the market, such as Microsoft’s Power BI. Microsoft has invested millions in optimizing the program for people that are not experts in analytics, so it’s a strong option for Safety Managers looking for ease of use. If you select an SMS that can integrate with Power BI you will have the ability to build your own reports, like this one:
Little training is required to get started with Power BI. If you are using it as part of your EHS software the vendor will likely provide training courses and videos for your users.
Here are some Risk Assessment metrics that you may wish to track using safety software:
- Risk Assessment Type by Approval Status
- Top 10 Hazards identified in Risk Assessments
- Floormap/heatmap of risk at a site
- Total Risk Exposure Score by Month
- Risk Assessment reviews by Type and Status (RAG)
- Risk Assessment Initial Risk Level vs. Final Risk Level
- Rate of Risk Assessments that result in Permit to Work requirement
How to assess your own Risk Assessment needs
You may be considering how to manage Risk Assessments and reviews more efficiently. As discussed, it is good practice to make use of a Safety Management System to ease the pressures on safety professionals, as 50% of companies surveyed by Aberdeen Group do. However, defining your requirements can be a bit of a maze so it’s recommended to start with a user needs assessment.
This involves asking questions such as “What technologies are our users happy with already?” to also assess the course of action most likely to result in success. We’ll be talking about this at our upcoming webinar, How to Manage Safety Risk Assessment with Microsoft SharePoint.
- Managing an effective Risk Assessment review schedule is just one of the tasks Safety professionals are responsible for in the modern workplace, but it’s a crucial one.
- The difference between average and best practice may be your reevaluation strategy, which can help you stay ahead of risk by realizing leading indicators.
- Automation can make the life of Safety personnel a lot easier, and the lives of workers much safer.
Join us on Wednesday, March 21 if you would like to learn more about better Risk Management.
Did you miss our webinar on Risk Assessment with SharePoint?
Not to worry! We've recorded the entire session. Get recording today and learn more about EH&S system needs analysis with Don Smith from JSA Services before Pro-Sapien's Andy Gray takes you through our Risk Management software on SharePoint.