Doing a Risk Assessment

by Dave Collins on July 22, 2015

in Risk Assessment

Another great post by Keith McCabe on LinkedIn Pulse. I think establishing and understanding the reason for doing the assessment is important as is who the customer is – usually it’s not because we want to or for our own benefit! Also, establishing the context is something I rarely see done well – we all need to be on the same page.

imageIt’s not the not doing the risk assessment that bothers me, it’s the not assessing the risk!

Communication is important we all engage in some form of communication almost all the time. The type of communication varies of course as does the perceived level of importance or relevancy of these communications. How many of you now, instinctively reach for your phone on waking?

How many check social media before checking emails, does that say something about your priorities and if it does, is it something positive or negative?

Today communication is easy, what appears to be more difficult is communicating!

Assessing risk isn’t a secret science we need to be trained in, nor is it exclusively the area of the omniscient safety professional. I’ve been through sessions where we were introduced to matrixes, charts, forms and templates where risks were rated, I question if this is the same as assessed.

The thing that was missing from the sessions no matter how well planned or presented was the communicating. I’d go so far as to say that most of the participants in these exercises were there because they were interested or involved with safety. But the risk assessment and in particular the matrix used in isolation from others simply isn’t good enough.

When asked to tell others what level we had assessed the risk at there were various different responses, (good you would expect that). Many participants however were reluctant to provide their responses saying they had changed their opinions or hadn’t considered some of the factors used by previous people. They were in effect afraid that their assessment was wrong!

What this indicates clearly is that the risk matrix is highly subjective depending on the user and that without consulting with others the risk assessment is a guess at best. The best way to assess risks is to talk about them and ask questions. If you received a plane ticket with no information on it would you get on the plane not knowing the destination, I suspect most of us would ask at least some questions.

Risk assessment forms serve as a record of the assessment which I won’t dispute is important, however what really counts is the conversation about the risks. It’s easy to convince yourself that that form is ticked, flicked and all is well with the world but at the end of the day wouldn’t you sleep just a little better if you actually had the conversation?

Thoughts welcome always,


  • Cmsafetyman

    Question for group:
    When conducting a task, where does the hazard exist? Subsequently, where should the craft’s focus on safety (executing safe work practices / hazard controls)? Also, the risk or hazard analysis recognizes the most common, repeatable hazards assiciated within that craft’s discipline of work. Uncommon hazards (typically high risk activity or condition) is generally recognized as part of the analysis process and specific controls are developed and communicated.
    SO, with that understanding, provide some insight into why a trained craft person who has participated in and is now executing a hazard control assessment as part of the task, will make a fatal-fault decision which may or may not end in fatal consequences.
    Please clarify in terms of psychosocial safety / risk management how a company, supervisor or co-worker is to recognize when the craft person becomes predisposed to such a choice.
    How does a company facilitate leadership to communicate and or recognize the ” personal decision making” by a single individual which results in non-conformance to risk analysis and controls.
    Am i barking up the wrong tree???

    • We cannot control the thoughts of others let alone their behaviours. People are fallible and make mistakes for a host of social and psychological reasons. The goal is to try and keep those mistakes small through an open culture of confession and trust. If the organisation speaks a discourse of fear and policing (often provoked by the discourse of zero) this is not likely. Humans simply cannot assess all hazards and risks, but they are less likely to be able to tackle risks alone, a culture of conversational openness and trust is again needed to better manage risk. If the safety person is given too much autonomy and power this will make the situation worse, with more hiding, more under reporting and less engagement in honest dialogue. Recognising cues (overconfidence, flooding, turbulence etc) in the social environment is most important, it is the group that best manages risk and mutual accountability best tackles risk. So, you are not up the wrong tree but it is the organising and cultural norms that best manage risk.

    • I would also add that by developing and encouraging a culture where people are free and comfortable to entertain doubt, to seek out, offer and accept cross-checking of the work being done with and by others; and where people are free to make mistakes without blame and punishment, will enable an environment where people are more prepared to identify and discern risks.

Previous post:

Next post: