Last reviewed 23 August 2020

Leadership is at the heart of good and successful management and this also applies to the process of risk assessment, writes Andrew Christodoulou.

Leadership has an important role to play in risk assessment with regard to two particular respects. The first is in relation to the risk assessment process itself, when positive and effective leadership is essential to ensure that the process is carried out effectively. Positive leadership is also required after the risk assessment process has been completed to ensure that the actions necessary to implement the risk assessments are put in place and monitored thereafter.

Leadership during the risk assessment process

Management and in particular senior management must take a lead during the risk assessment process and ensure that they are actively involved in the whole process. Without leadership from management the risk assessment process is less likely to be effective and successful.

A senior manager and preferably someone at board level does therefore need to be involved in the risk assessment process from the start.

Effective leadership will entail the following elements.

Creating the vision and goals for the risk assessment process

Senior persons need to be able to impress upon those involved in risk assessment the worth of what they are doing and the benefits of what they are involved in. Personal encouragement from senior personnel will ensure that the risk assessment process is meaningful to those involved. They should emphasise that the process is not a paperwork exercise, it is about saving lives and health, and will be beneficial to the organisation.

Develop a plan

Senior managers need to be at the heart of developing a plan to achieve effective risk assessments. This will involve consultation with and the involvement of employees to decide on how the risk assessment process will be tackled and approached.

It is essential to allocate adequate resources for the process if the credibility of the risk assessment process is to be achieved. Clear objectives and targets for the risk assessment process should be established from the outset and only positive leadership can achieve this.

The risk assessment team

Risk assessments are best carried out by a team of persons and senior managers need to take a lead in the selection of the team. Those involved in the process need to be competent to perform risk assessments.

It is critical for at least one manager to be involved in the risk assessment process itself. This will not only show management ownership of the risk assessments, but also should ensure easy access by risk assessment teams as required to the relevant departments and sites as well as ensuring co-operation from those areas being assessed.

Leadership following the risk assessment process

The purpose of risk assessments is the prevention of injury and ill health among the workforce and others who might be affected. Consequently, putting into place any measures indicated by the risk assessment is of key importance and can only happen effectively if leadership by senior managers and directors is shown.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has long been campaigning and educating along these lines and INDG417 Leading Health and Safety at Work was published in conjunction with the Institute of Directors. In that document the HSE sets out the essential elements about the role of leadership in managing health and safety successfully. The principles of strong, visible leadership, involving the workforce and acting on the advice of competent people, must be adopted.

The HSE document HSG65 Managing for Health and Safety sets out the general principles of good management including the role of positive leadership. It lays out the plan-do-check-act approach to managing health and safety.

Plan

  • Examine what needs to be achieved by the risk assessment process.

  • Allocate responsibilities for the process and decide how you will measure the achievement of the aims.

  • Record the policy for risk assessment and the plan to deliver it.

Do

  • Identify the risk profile of the organisation by assessing the risks within the organisation, identifying what could cause harm in the workplace, who it could harm and how, and what needs to be done to manage the risk.

  • Decide what the priorities are and identify the greatest and most important risks.

  • Organise the organisations activities to deliver the plan.

  • Involve workers and communicate, so that everyone is clear on what is needed.

  • Develop positive attitudes and behaviours.

  • Provide adequate resources, including competent advice where needed.

  • Implement the plan.

  • Decide on the preventive and protective measures needed and put them in place.

  • Train and instruct, to ensure everyone is competent to carry out their work.

  • Supervise to make sure that arrangements are followed.

Check

  • Measure the achievements and performance against the plan.

  • Make sure that your plan has been implemented.

  • Assess how well the risks are being controlled and if you are achieving your aims.

  • Carry out a formal audit if necessary.

  • Investigate the causes of accidents, incidents or near misses in relation to the performed risk assessments.

Act

  • Review the performance of the organisation in relation to the plan on risk assessments.

  • Learn from accidents and incidents, ill-health data, errors and relevant experience, including from other organisations.

  • Revisit plans, policy documents and risk assessments to see if they need updating.

  • Take action on lessons learned, including from audit and inspection reports.

Convincing managers to show leadership

Some managers and directors may seem reluctant to show leadership on risk assessment and the management of the process. Senior personnel manage many demands and may feel that the time spent on risk assessment is not cost effective. In some cases, managers and directors may require training in the worth of showing leadership on risk assessment.

A number of “off the shelf” training courses provided by different bodies may be used. These include the IOSH Leading Safely course, for example, which lasts about five hours and places emphasis on the role and influence of management leadership on the successful management of health and safety including the provision of risk assessments. As an alternative, tailored courses can be developed specifically for a group of managers and directors to explain the benefits of positive leadership and costs and downside of poor leadership.

Such a training course should explore the arguments for positive leadership. These include the following.

The moral case

It is not easy to find organisations where the moral argument for spending on health and safety is the main driver. This is perhaps a sad commentary on the attitudes of some of our managers and directors, but anyone with any first-hand experience of workplace injuries and ill health finds the moral case compelling. As Bill Callaghan, Chair of the then HSC (now the HSE) said: “People matter. We believe that people have the right to return home from work safe and sound”. The moral case is in reality the strongest of the arguments.

The legal case

The legal consequences of falling foul of the law on health and safety at work are well known. Both criminal proceedings and civil claims can result, leading to fines and compensation payouts. Both fines and compensation awards are increasing and can have a great financial impact when taken with increases in insurance premiums and damage to reputation and similar knock-on costs. Prison sentences are also possible and directors and managers should note that there appears to be an increase in manslaughter cases. This includes both corporate manslaughter and also gross negligence manslaughter.

The economic case

The economic case for leadership on health and safety is overwhelmingly compelling. According to the latest figures from the HSE, current working conditions resulted in an annual cost of £14 billion and these costs can be translated into local costs for individual organisations. Make sure the indirect costs are also taken into account (ie drop in sales due to loss of reputation as much as cost of lost working time).

Many directors may believe that their insurance premiums may cover the potential costs of poor health and safety and this is not the case. In fact, the majority of the costs of accidents/incidents and ill health are not covered by insurance. These include:

  • effect on morale and loss of goodwill

  • loss of skill/experience

  • time taken to deal with any incident

  • effect on reputation

  • stress

  • increases in insurance premium, etc.

The sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences published by the Sentencing Council mean that the financial impact of falling foul of the law is potentially very considerable with unlimited fines for many health and safety offences.

Conclusion

Risk assessment is a central core activity for managing health and safety in the workplace and in turn protecting the workplace and others from injury and ill health. The risk assessment process has to be managed and must be led by senior managers and directors, who should be involved throughout the whole process. Without such leadership, risk assessments are unlikely to be an effective tool for taking care of the workforce.