Risk Assessment has its very own hazard – Perception and Complacency!

A lot of my activity at the moment is consulting with the Hospitality Sector and Covid-19. It sounds perplexing and I’ll be honest I’d rather complete a risk assessment on something like DSE or Manual Handling than a virus.  I can see the workstation and the person using it which is a good place to start. Although this is a new Coronavirus it still behaves like other virus’s so completing risk assessments for Covid-19 aren’t as tricky as I would have thought. Most venues don’t have to spend too much money and make adjustments with their practical measures.

Duty of Employers

The term “reasonably practicable” comes from the Health and Safety at Work Act and is the most often used duty for Employers to keep their workplaces safe and reduce the risk of accidents and harm occurring. Its about taking a pragmatic approach and thinking about common sense.    

This Coronavirus is a new hazard and yet think about the measures you will have put in place to reduce the chance of catching it. Looking back you will have a range of measures and the ones you have will be practical and even common sense now you have stopped and thought about it. 

I don’t like quoting the phrase “reasonably practicable” whilst consulting with business owners or managers as it feels a bit too “Health and Safety.”  I mean, chances are I have a clipboard so let’s not look too stereotypical. 

I prefer talking about what is likely to happen so the questions I ask the business are –

  • What does your common sense tell you? (You really think an accident or incident will happen).
  • What do you think will happen if you do nothing?

Now we have a conversation going because any experienced business owner will know their own workplace and can anticipate how any harm or accidents will occur.   So next time you are in the position of risk assessing your own workplace hazards just ask yourself those two questions.  

Sound simple?  I think so, but then I would say that considering it’s my job. 

So what’s the big problem?

Perception and complacency!  Apparently we all don’t think the same which means we won’t all have the same common sense. One person might see danger and then another see’s very little risk. Another big issue in my opinion when consulting with businesses is complacency.  People don’t see what has been in front of them the whole time – it’s human nature.

The term “likelihood” is used in risk assessment process and it is a problem.  When I teach risk assessment and we discuss this term a common response is the accident is unlikely to happen. Why? Because it’s never happened before.  That does sound a fair way to think but as a business it’s a mistake. The accident only needs to happen once!!  I’ll say it again – It only needs to happen once!!

Once it has happened then presumably a person has been hurt, and what if it’s a life changing incident? What impact does that have on that person never mind the business? So once is enough.

In short businesses don’t always see what’s around them or just think it won’t happen. Don’t ask me how many propped open fire doors I see.  Let me give you some other examples.

  • During a walkabout with staff and Managers on their premises, whilst delivering some Fire Safety training I stopped and asked about the risk staring us all in the face. I was confident they would easily answer my question – I was wrong.  No one could see the blocked fire door by staff who were, from the outside, sitting on chairs, smoking across the doorway.  Admittedly it was funny at the time and Managers did laugh, explaining how long this had been happening.  On my next visit the staff now have a new smoking area.
  • Another business provides alcoholic drinks for a Friday afternoon. We all love that Friday feeling and I appreciate the sentiment, but I had to do the tough love and ask just one question. “Do staff then all drive home?” It had the desired effect (and then I drivelled on about how good the alcohol free products are these days).

How do I get around human nature and complacency?

Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at the situation. In my view it’s a mistake to complete risk assessments on your own with no other input.  Another work colleague could help but again asking another person that works in the same place who might of been part of the problem – I mean they didn’t spot the hazards either.  In fact I’d encourage you to assess your workplace hazards with your staff, they will know the place very well too (always great to include your staff on workplace issues).

Sometimes it really is just a case that businesses aren’t aware of the Laws on Health and Safety as I often find with say DSE assessments. See my other blog when I chatted about DSE – not everyone realises its importance.

    So what should you do?

    That’s where I come in.  A fresh pair of eyes with Health and Safety knowledge and some tough love.  It’s my job to tell it how it is when it comes to how the law works.  Asking the tough questions, being honest in my feedback can be an eye opener to business owners even if they don’t like what I have to say. I’d be negligent if I sugar coated the safety issues facing businesses and down played the likeliness of harm occurring which can lead to claims against you.

    Other pragmatic solutions that are achievable and can protect you from complacency

    • Regular staff meetings with health and safety on the agenda (on every meeting). Everyone has time for a monthly meeting. You’d be surprised at how many Health and Safety topics you can chat to your staff about.
    • Invite a staff member to take the lead with Health and Safety. I know your staff will have been trained but how long ago did they complete the training (e.g. Food Safety is typically every 3 years). Encourage COVID Champions, First Aiders, Fire Wardens – these are all pragmatic.


    And many other ways.

    Whether it’s COVID, DSE of First Aid, I’d be happy to visit your premises and have a chat  – asking questions and have a good look about.  I teach Risk Assessment so I’d like to think you are in good hands and I promise to tell you how it is!!