You cannot reduce severity
In the last few years, particularly in renewables and construction, I’ve encountered several clients that have commented “severity can’t be reduced, only probability”, when commenting on risk assessments. Almost all insisted on using a methodology that requires severity and likelihood to be scored (interestingly the examples on the HSE website do not require scoring, and there is no requirement in law to do so. That’s a conversation for another day).
Fed up of this, I decided to call it out and challenge, from a position of care. Think about your own workplace. Can the severity of harm be reduced?
The simple answer is “Yes”, as anyone with an elementary understanding of the principles of prevention will understand.
There are examples of being able to reduce likelihood and severity. Recently, I was inspecting a wastewater treatment plant, and noticed a noisy motor, feeding air handling equipment. Noise pollution would have been caused by moving it outside, and it was not reasonably practicable (financially) to replace with a quieter motor. However, there were a range of options. A suitable and sufficient maintenance regime reduced the noise created. Changes in setting to work meant that longer duration tasks could be completed away from the motor. PPE could be used. Audiometry testing would show early signs of controls being defeated. When combined, these controls reduce the exposure (and therefore the likelihood), and the extent of the harm (and therefore the severity).
Severity can be reduced alone. Fall protection systems do not reduce the probability of someone falling but do reduce the consequence. Falling into a net is less severe than onto a concrete floor. At a very basic level, imagine a brick falling on to your head. And then a brick falling on to your head, but you are wearing a hard hat. The severity is reduced.
The sentiment behind focusing on reducing the likelihood is correct and commendable. Reducing the likelihood of an adverse event, is preferred to minimising its consequences. Prevention is better than cure, but sometimes a cure is required.
To claim that severity cannot be reduced is not just inaccurate. It is dangerous and shows a lack of lateral thinking and creativity to managing risk. This creates unjustified risk averse mindsets that hinders (and often stops) operations, due to a perceived inability to reduce the severity of the outcome. For those that insist on a matrix (and they have a place), some risks remain artificially high. This can desensitise to risk and takes attention away from where it may be better placed.
To be credible, solution-focused and to facilitate safe and successful work requires proper risk management, targeting both the likelihood and the severity. If this is a debate you are having, let’s talk with your workers and managers, get their views, and gather examples.
By thinking differently, we can better manage and mitigate the risks in your workplace, and this is an area that HSEQ-360 can add real value to your operations teams, by targeting your focus where it is most needed and valuable. It is good to talk, and we will be pleased to do so for 30 minutes, free of charge and obligation.
Risk assessments - Why
Simply put, it is every employer’s obligation. Legally and morally.
Being a responsible and attractive employer is more than not breaking the law and doing the right thing. A workforce needs to be productive. Efficient. Effective. Talent is difficult to attract and maintain, and employers need to differentiate to entice, develop and improve capable people.
Ultimately, there is a legal requirement for employers to manage workplace health and safety, and this means controlling risk. And to be controlled, a risk needs to be identified and evaluated.
This identification and evaluation results in a risk assessment. Hazards in a workplace need to be systematically identified, evaluated, and controlled through actions to mitigate them.
For a business with five or more employees, the requirement goes further. Conducting a risk assessment is not enough. Findings must be recorded in writing, and subject to review.
Although there is no requirement for a business with fewer than five employees to record a risk assessment, risks in the workplace must still be assessed. However, recording risk assessments has benefits, often for convenience rather than compliance. A written report removes subjectivity, allows a focus to be honed and makes a review easier to undertake in the future.
Many businesses are unsure of the hazards present in their workplace, the harm that may arise, and the controls required to reduce the likelihood and / or severity, should something go wrong. Often, it is prudent to call in an expert, and this is a key service offered by HSEQ-360.
Things do go wrong, and it is often wise to consider the “what if” scenarios. A workplace incident may lead to prosecution, and intense scrutiny of the risk assessment. This has seen imprisonment, fines, and business closures.
If you need assistance in completing a risk assessment, or require a review of your current arrangements, contact HSEQ-360. We will be pleased to assist, and to offer 30 minutes of free, no obligation advice.