On Advice Blog

How do we risk assess in a changing environment?

7th Apr 2020

Download as PDF

First we can focus on the better known elements of risk assessing; what are the hazards or potential for harm associated with a task, and what is the likelihood that the harm will occur. 

Both of those element are assigned a score, typically between 1 and 5  and then multiplied to give an overall  risk score.  

The risk score is then checked against a predetermined set of values on whether the level of risk is acceptable, for instance anything 18-25 is unacceptable, 8 to 17 proceed with extra caution, and below 8 the risk is acceptable.  So far it is a fairly scientific process, typically done in an office in the cold light of day.  

Issues arise in the application of the ‘office written’ Risk Assessment in the real world, and individuals apply their subjectivity and emotions to a perceived risk.

The trouble is that, if there is a perceived benefit, people are likely to  play down the risk, further, in the mind they rationalise and believe they take control of the risk by adding their own qualifications, for instance even though we are still distracted from the main task of driving, we tell ourselves we can use our mobile whilst driving, particularly if we only use it when on the dual carriageway or a long stretch of road.

On site when faced with slavishly sticking to an office produced risk assessment and getting the job done (and fee earned), there is a real potential for individuals to skew the risk perception to get the job done and keep their employers happy.

Employers, allowing staff to use discretion in Risk Assessments, where conditions may be different on site,  need to recognise this human factor and try to combat the individuals natural urge, by highlighting risk perception bias trait, incorporating it into their Health and Safety training.