The Trouble With Risk Registers.

by Dave Collins on July 8, 2013

in Workplace Safety

The Trouble With Risk Registers.

Guest Post by Sam Bourne

UPDATE: After lots of requests in the comments below, Sam has just supplied a sample of a Risk Register using an Excel Spread sheet you can download:

With the recently introduced WHS legislation in the majority of Australian states, and the increased focus on the ‘risk management approach’ it’s worthwhile taking a step back to see how effective companies are actually managing this process.

I’ve seen a lot of organisations attempt to manage this process by creating a new risk assessment for all different types of risks, from traffic management, hazardous chemicals, working at height, and so on. It’s quite common to see the end result producing an excessive amount of ‘paper’ assessments that get created, signed off and then filed in the abyss. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen a risk assessment that is pulled off a shelf and seems to not have been reviewed since it was created years earlier.

How simple would it be to create one document that collated all these risks allowing for a consistent ‘risk’ approach across a wide range of hazard categories? A risk register that applies to an entire site/business/organisation could be used to manage this process. I’ve seen some spreadsheets, that with some thought into the column structure (and a little conditional formatting) meet this requirement easily.

The risks need to be effectively identified / work shopped with input from relevant parties and the existing controls should be documented – creating basic visibility to policy and procedures. A systematic assessment process, based on data rather than personal opinion, should sit across the entire document. It’s then a matter of fleshing out the content, identifying where improvements need to be made and assigning responsibilities, timeframes and the like.

Once the document is adequately populated it’s a matter of ensuring that persons responsible are aware of what they need to undertake in order to manage the relevant risks. This could be done in a regular forum, making use of existing meetings within the business. This is also an easy way to demonstrate consultation within your company.

Using the filter option on the spreadsheet allows people to quickly locate the area of concern without the need to trawl through excessive content. The filter option also provides a useful induction tool for contractors, simply filter by person affected and use the content as required.

Whilst this may simplify the risk management process and reduce some of the paper that tends to be produced in this sector, the process will fail without adequate buy in and time spent using, modifying and improving the content. Visibility of this process will help with the long term success of the risk register, albeit management meetings, reports or online tracking.

Sam has held various positions in property management enterprises, government organisations and consultancies in the health and safety sector, he currently works for a large property company and lends his spare time to developing health and safety software solutions for Comply Flow. You can find him on linkedin – or twitter

  • An example risk register has just been added for download

  • Bernard L Fontaine, Jr,, M.T, M.Sc., CIH, CSP

    The risk register is completed correctly can be a powerful tool in the risk governance process. It not only identifies task-based risk but helps qualitatively or quantitatively evaluate the risk appetite for the organization. The risk register is not difficult to populate but it is a financial and management tool coupled with a gap analysis and strategic management plan to understand cost and implement the various controls missing in each operation or process. Our global firm evaluates occupational health and safety risk and reviews the monetary benefits and cost associated with the construct of safety and the cost effectiveness of occupational health. We align occupational concerns with public health, social values, environment, and other factors to provide leadership with a complete understanding of cost savings and cost avoidance to increase profitability, productivity, brand, market share, and trust for all stakeholders and stockholders. In short, risk registers are valuable if done correctly.

  • Hayden

    Id also love to see this register if possible. Once the paperwork is sorted I’m lucky to get an hour on the shop floor these days

  • Sam


    Thanks for the feedback,

    I will find have a dig around and for an example I can share. Dave will upload and post the link here.


  • Les Terry

    Are we proposing a 1 stop shop – as 1 size fits all is not possible with Risk Management – this is the hardest selling point in my lectures as we see it as a blanket solution. Thanks Les,

  • Cheryl Stace

    Hi Sam, I am with Henrik, could we see an example of what you propse is a “cover all” risk register? Perhaps as well as a filter, there could be automatic reminders when various sections are due for review. We spend too much time looking at paper instead of people! Cheers Cheryl

  • Henrik

    Hi, thanks for sharing this. I have been playing with this idea of one spreadsheet, but I am struggling to set it up properly so if you have any samples of what you are talking about that would be really great, thanks

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