How was it for you? HSE’s quickie tool for risk assessment

I was looking forward to this. Mug of tea in one hand, stripped to the waist (well, no, perhaps not). I thought I’d try out HSE’s online risk assessment tool for offices (more tools to follow later). This was one of the recommendations of Lord Young’s review (see last three blogs). I decided to go for the ‘Ello ‘Ello option (er, you know “I will say this only once”). Well, with the cuts and everything, you can’t be sure it’ll be there if you return tomorrow.

You can find all of this quite easily on the HSE website.

From my perspective, the approach looks a little like a combination of HSE’s well respected “5 steps to risk assessment” guidance, coupled with output from some of their separately issued example risk assessments. The benefit of doing it this way is that it pushes you through it in a consolidated fashion, with the examples readily to hand to help you complete it and some of the common answers already as a check box for inclusion.

The introduction is friendly, reminding you risk assessment isn’t difficult. You just need to know what to look for and here’s a checklist to help. It’s worth saying that you need to be familiar with the area in which you work (pretty obviously) and maybe ask around if you’re unsure if those hazards exist in your workplace (for my train spotter readers, I’d like to point out that this means actually talking to people). We then proceed in a kind of topic-based expert system approach – asking questions and ticking boxes on topics of slips/trips/falls, manual handling, fire etc. It establishes what you’re already doing first. If you check “more action needed” (well, it does give you quite a few hints) it opens up a box so you can record those. This includes rudimentary action tracking too (assigning actions to individuals, due dates and whether complete).

Some things are obviously more involved. For example, the section on computers refers to separate workstation assessments (in the ‘what you are already doing’ bit) – so there’s more work than first appears. The same is true of fire too. But, if you weren’t reading carefully, you might miss that.

There’s clunkiness here and there as you might expect (and forgive) because it’s new. It’s lacking a “back” button to go back if you had forgotten something in a section – you could use the web browser’s own back button as a work round (though there is the opportunity to review the whole thing right at the end). When you get to the end and press the finish button you get a neat pdf output, formatted in the tabular style of the familiar “5-steps” guidance. The best bit is that it’s highly summarised (2 -3 pages or so).

It’s worth saying, that if you don’t check any of the boxes or add anything for a specific topic, that topic will not appear on the final risk assessment. This means it only records significant findings – but if you forget to check a box by accident, it won’t appear on the risk assessment record to remind you. If I were new to this, I think I might have wanted a simple line in the risk assessment to say I’d at least considered and discounted it as insignificant at that time in case of changes in the future. Kind of a reassurance thing.

So, in summary, a good effort that pushes you smoothly through the basics but has its foibles. What I like actually is the fact that it doesn’t let you get away with “generic”. You still have to know your workplace and think it through. But, it does give you a good deal of help to get your house in order.

So how was it for you? Where did I put my cigarette…