The right to life is the most fundamental human right. Thus the protection of the safety and health workers in the workplace has been a core issue of the legislator in resent years. In most countries legislation provides sufficient statutory guidance to enable managers to conduct a suitable and sufficient workplace risk assessment. The real problems and probably the primary cause for the lack in the reduction of hazards and risks and the improvement of accident statistics can be attributed not to a lacking legislative framework but rather to a lack of practical transformation and implementation of these principles by the participants in the workplace risk assessment process.
The business world has become increasingly competitive and complex resulting in the rapid changes in the working environment, processes and organization of work. The traditional command and control approach cannot fully address these challenges as laws and regulations are unable to cover all possible types of hazards and risks effectively.
To manage risk is deemed to be essential in the modern society. Most workplace risk assessment consultants will provide you with "wisdom and insight" into this modern wonder that was developed to assist supervisors and managers alike to deal with the complexities of the modern business.
The concept to manage risk however is nothing new, in the Stone Age human beings tried to prevent their risk exposure to being attacked by wild animals by living in caves and later on they developed more controls. When they discovered how to manage fire they used this new control by making fires to keep the danger at bay when they had to sleep outside. They did not call this risk assessment, they just called it survival.
This process of evolution continued and mankind were able to develop and harness many more energy sources. Many years after the cavemen scared the predators away with fire, around 2200 BC, the King of Babylon produced the famous 'Code of Hammurabi' in an attempt to capture the prevention of unsafe practices in a formalized and structured set of rules. Incidentally this code prescribed specific punishment for actions or lack of it by supervisors resulting in injury of their workers. For example, if a worker lost an arm due to an act or omission by an overseer, his arm was removed to match the loss of the worker. This would seem very harsh in when we look at it with a modern world view, but apparently provided the necessary motivation to supervisors to increase the safety in their work areas.
Today every responsible parent teaches their young children to conduct an informal risk assessment before crossing a busy street, by providing them with a standard process to ensure that it is safe to cross. Who have not heard the
look left, look right, look left again and if safe cross the road
in some form or another. In this very basic informal risk assessment one can also find a number of lessons to be learnt.
Firstly, this rule is extremely simple and is even understood by small children, therefore, when doing a risk assessment, the rule should be to keep the process simple.
Secondly if you have ever tried to cross the street in a country where the traffic drives on the right hand side of the road, you will realize that the time tested look left, look right, look left again and if safe cross the road system can get you in deep trouble very quickly. The lesson is that a perfectly good process for conducting risk assessments on one site may not be appropriate for other sites.
Due to the inherent ability of mankind to respond to treads a comprehensive methodology to conduct risk assessment has been developed over time. Unfortunately the modern day processes and procedures for conducting risk assessments evolved into a complex set of rules and guidelines that could be very confusing to the uninformed. This is mostly ascribed to the complexity of the activities that poses the risks. It is often forgotten that the more complex the process the more likely one is to make a mistake, especially when conducting risk assessments.
It is not advocated to over simplify of the processes involved in the risk assessment process, however one should ensure that the process complexity is aligned with the complexity of the process being assessed as well as the maturity of the organization in which is it being conducted.
It has been said that risk assessment is just a new way to objectively manage the items that previous generations of managers did by the seat of their pants. Whether this is true or not, conducting a proper risk assessment makes a valuable contribution towards sound management practice. It has the ability to focus the attention of the decision makers on the biggest impact items in the company and reduce personal preferences of individuals that may not be accurate.
Whether you conducts a simple or complex risk assessment always keep in mind that the risk assessment process should serve the outcome and not the other way around.
© Carl Marx