Work planning and risk assessment

It has generally become practice in many industries that workers are tasked with risk assessing their daily standard work. But does such a practice produce a safer working environment?

It can be experienced that such a practice often backfires where work planning and risk assessment ends up being a matter of formality and where large bulks of documentation is repeatedly produced for the sake of documentation in a misunderstood regime aimed at engaging people.

Even though we all want to be safe, workers and supervisors will inevitably develop a negative attitude towards safety in such a regime.

Legislative requirements

The cause of this non-sustainable practice can among other be found in EU’s OSH Framework Directive (Directive 89/391 on occupational safety and health) which can be argued not having been properly implemented.

It is interesting to examine Article 6, part 1 of the Directive which stipulates:

  • Within the context of his responsibilities, the employer shall take the measures necessary for the safety and health protection of workers, including prevention of occupational risks and provision of information and training, as well as provision of the necessary organization and means

…and further Article 12, part 1:

  • The employer shall ensure that each worker receives adequate safety and health training, in particular in the form of information and instructions specific to his workstation or job:
    • on recruitment,
    • in the event of a transfer or a change of job,
    • in the event of the introduction of new work equipment or a change in equipment
    • in the event of the introduction of any new technology
  • The training shall be:
    • adapted to take account of new or changed risks and repeated periodically if necessary

Human factors

One should realize that human factors (e.g. fatigue, frustration, complacency, conflicting interests, work pressures, motivation etc.) most often cause accidents – not unsafe conditions. Human factors will always be present in one way or another and employers should consequently take this into account.

It is ironic (or tragic?) that legislative requirements do not consider human behaviours by predominantly having a single sided focus to physical hazard elimination and reduction.

It must be crystal clear that risk assessment never can replace personal competence and good work planning and that it cannot countermeasure effects of human factor based unsafe behaviours.

We should consequently add our focus towards job specific training – including the procedures and instructions established to control work in environments where residual hazards would be present – and ensure that people in general will be able to work safely on their own.

Work planning

During daily work planning on site (covering standard operations) it does not make any sense to task workers to do the same risk assessments over and over again. It is, however, essential that the Supervisor:

  • Plans work in accordance with applicable procedures and instructions
  • Makes sure that all workers are sufficiently instructed in those procedures and instructions
  • Ad hoc review of task specific residual hazards (those causing the procedures and instructions to be established)
  • Plans the work to limit possible human factor effects to the extend possible (easier said than done!)

Procedures and work instructions for working safely in environments with residual hazards are comprised in the Safe System of Work (a critical part of any management system) which should be established on the bases of risk assessment (ref. the Risk Management Process) involving the work force.

In the event of planning non-standard work, it is obviously sound practice to risk assess the situation at hand – together with the workers – and to the extent possible establish effective measures for eliminating the risk.