Can your staff deal with emergencies?

The commonly accepted process of risk assessment doesn’t cover everything – and when the circumstances change fast most people don’t know what to do. The result can be dangerous decisions.

Even if some of the less common situations are covered in the safety manuals most employees will resist reading them with the excuse that they ‘haven’t had time’. There are also some who just think they can do it better than the manuals suggest! Quite often they’re right; people who are currently engaged in a particular job are usually the best informed on what works and what doesn’t.

Does this mean we’re advocating throwing risk assessment out and letting people do it their way? Certainly not. Risk assessments are not only sensible, they’re a legal requirement. Good risk assessments address both generic risks and those that are specific to a person, a premises or a piece of equipment. With a good internal communication system the message will get through to everyone effectively, without them having to read any manuals!

The problem occurs when something radical happens – something that doesn’t fit the laid down processes. When the existing processes are no longer appropriate or sufficient, there needs to be an alternative approach and this is where dynamic risk assessment comes into effect.

Dynamic risk assessment is a methodology that allows people to develop the skills to make good quality decisions in rapidly changing and often ambiguous situations. When the rules need to be adapted it provides a means for people to make safe decisions.

You can’t just empower people; they need to be trained to assess situations both confidently and competently. Dynamic risk assessment cannot be used as an excuse for making instant decisions that are not part of the process. It simply won’t stand up in Court!

To use the dynamic risk assessment methodology you need to have three essential elements in place:

  • Commitment from the owner/MD/CEO. Buy-in is essential as well as the allocation of resources to do it. It may be necessary to change safety policy documents and integrate the methodology into existing work processes.
  • Empowerment of the people with the right training to enable them to make good quality decisions so they understand what they’re doing, why and how. This can be integrated into existing training. It’s also important to allow for mistakes and have a process for dealing with the fact that they will happen.
  • Communication throughout the organisation of how the methodology works, how it can be used and when it’s appropriate to put it into practice, not to mention the gathering and sharing of information when things happen outside ‘normal’ expectations.
  • Some people think that dynamic risk assessments are for use by people who are in front line high-risk situations, such as the emergency services and military. They can be just as important for maintenance services, construction sites and any medium or high risk operation.