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How to undertake an effective risk assessment

How to undertake an effective risk assessment

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Electrotechnical and engineering contractors should always understand the hazards and risks associated with any job they do, or supervise, and how any significant risks will be controlled.  While this is particularly true for electrical safety, it’s also true for other health and safety issues.  In fact, in the commercial sector, falls from height and manual handling injuries are particularly prevalent, and asbestos is an even bigger, industry-defining, health issue. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that risk assessments (RAs) need to be ‘suitable and sufficient’ and it’s the RA that informs other key documents such as ‘Construction Phase Plans’ and ‘method statements’. In the public and commercial sectors, clients and ‘pre-qualification’ schemes are very keen to see if the contractor can deal with RAs. 

Two basic types of RA are ‘quantified’ (giving a number that indicates the level of risk) and ‘qualitative’ (a general statement e.g. ‘low’ or ‘medium’ risk).  Either type can be based on the following seven steps...

Step one - understand the activities required for the task/job/project

The starting point for any RA is to understand what the task/job involves. In short, what are the activities involved in this job?

Step two - what are the hazards associated with the activity?

Consider:

• relevant hazards ('hazards' are the potential causes of significant harm); and

• who could be harmed, and how?

Step three - prioritize those hazards

When you have considered the hazards, decide which ones are the most significant (which hazards could lead to significant harm). You can then base your RA mainly on addressing these hazards.

Step four - control measures to reduce the risk of harm 

If eliminating a hazard is not an option, you’ll need suitable risk controls to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.  So, consider what control measures you’ll need to control the risk of harm.  This might include safety measures such as safe isolation, permits to work, safety barriers, site instructions or protective equipment).

You may well have general approaches to reducing the risk from any significant hazards that are associated with what you usually do.  Note these risk controls first.

Step five - identify any further, job-specific issues

However, there may also be additional, job-specific, health and safety issues.  Again, note these (they might range from using a new apprentice to more specific hazards, such as work on MEWPs, or in a refrigeration room). Note what further risk controls you will use.

Step six - clarify responsibility

Add who has supervisory responsibility for ensuring your control measures are actually: 1) available when needed and 2) used and understood by operatives/sub-contractors. Your control measures will need applied properly at the workplace, if your RA is to be a good assessment of the risk.

Step seven - taking everything into account, assess the risk!

The RA then requires you to consider what risk remains, and to who, once all your control measures are in place (this is called the ‘residual risk’).  To assess this, consider the following two factors (remember, this is with all your control measures in place): 

1) how harmful could an accident or exposure be? and 

2) how likely is it to happen?  ('severity x how likely = risk of harm'). 

The remaining risk from this activity (the residual risk) is the output of your risk assessment. 

Now, decide if the remaining risk is sufficiently low. If it’s not, then you need to re-visit what you are doing to control risks from this activity.

Drawing up RAs can be confusing and, certainly when being done first time, time consuming.  To help contractors quickly and effectively assess risks, and what to do about them, the ECA has developed eRAMS – a risk assessment and method statement service.

The eRAMS service is designed specifically for engineering contractors, following input from clients, ECA members and other industry experts.  The service also contains a new ‘Construction Phase Plan’ module, to help ensure compliance with new regulations introduced in 2015.

Ensuring your business meets health and safety requirements can play an important role in securing new work, as doing so will reassure clients that they are highly unlikely to face any financial penalty or unwanted publicity from an accident taking place on site.

ECA members can access eRAMS free of charge, and can quickly get started by visiting: www.eca.co.uk/eRAMS. Non-ECA members can purchase the eRAMS service at a highly competitive annual subscription, via CHAS - http://client.chas.co.uk/LP_ECA.html.