The importance of risk assessment


Health and Safety in the workplace can be made so simple, and it starts with getting the basics right.

I’m continually amazed by the number of organisations that ignore health and safety requirements – seeing it as a distraction, mired in regulation, or too costly. Well, in my experience, it is these organisations that frequently get caught out with a heavy fines due to breaches in health and safety regulation. And not just the organisations you would expect, where there are obvious dangers in the workplace, such as construction firms, power plants and manufacturing industries. All too often it is the office-based industries that fall foul of the law. Health and safety applies to all.

In a recent case, a recycling firm appeared in court after an employee almost lost his right leg when it became trapped in a machine as he tried to remove a blockage at the company’s factory. The employee in question was elevated on a mobile platform, before climbing out of the basket and onto a conveyor belt, five metres above the ground. As he tried to clear the blockage his leg was dragged into the machine, with terrible consequences.

The employee sustained significant crush injuries, requiring multiple operations to try and save his leg. Now nearly a year after the accident, doctors remain unsure whether the 41-year old man will ever regain the full use of his leg. Of course, all of this could have easily been avoided.

The court was told that it was routine for workers to climb from the elevator platform onto the conveyor belt to clear blockages from the unguarded machine, which also lacked guard rails to prevent employees from falling. The recycling form was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,221 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

My advice on this issue is clear: all organisations should carry out risk assessments of the workplace and activities, using a competent person. This would pick up on any possible hazards and ensure control measure are implemented and that health and safety instruction is communicated to all employees to prevent any accidents going forward. Prevention is always better, and less expensive to health, wellbeing and commercially, than reaction.