Understanding the Difference Between Risk Assessment and Safety Inspections

What's the Difference Between Risk Assessment and Safety Inspections?

Date Posted: 20th September 2021

Understanding the difference between risk assessment and safety inspections

Today I was delivering IOSH Managing Safely, and as part of the course we have to talk about risk assessment. In fact, that’s a big chunk of the course and is also part of the assessment at the end.

And one thing I was hammering home with the delegates today was the difference between risk assessments and inspections, because this is one of the big mistakes delegates on these courses make (the health and safety professionals amongst you will already know this). And there’s a huge difference. But line managers who do a lot of inspections and have never really done a risk assessment, they do struggle with this.

Inspections are quite a frequent tasks compared to a risk assessment, often done monthly, weekly or sometimes even daily, and the risk assessment on an area or a task, you might only do it once a year when you review it, so it is kind of a one off activity with a bit of a review.

But the key mistake that I see, is that people treat risk assessments like an inspection. So they go around looking for hazards that are uncontrolled. They go around looking for things that are wrong.

And their risk assessments often look like this:

Hazard: Pallet on walkway.

Who might be harmed: Everyone.

How might they be harmed: They could trip and fall.

Current control measures: Marked walkway.

Additional control measures: Move pallet.

Done.

Don’t just go writing that down. Just move the damn thing. Move it now. Why are you writing that down on your risk assessment for? Take immediate action.

Now, the big difference between a safety inspection and a risk assessment is that a risk assessment doesn’t look at what’s wrong today whereas the safety inspection does.

Risk assessment looks at potential hazards and what could go wrong. So on the day of your risk assessment, everything may be tidy, everything may be working working, everything is in great condition, and all the fire exits are clear. But you know it’s not always like that because you work there every day, and you’ve seen what goes on when things get busy.

So what could happen?

  • The floor could get untidy.
  • There could be pallets, boxes or pallet trucks on the walkways.
  • There could put things in front of the fire exits.
  • There could be flammable liquids left out in the open, ready to get knocked over and spilt, and
  • There could be guards and intellects that sometimes get bypassed.

All of these things could happen. So risk assessments are about what could happen.

It talks about the likelihood of hazardous events happening, where as safety inspections are a snapshot of that time and place.

Risk assessment leads you onto what immediate action you can take in order to fix those things today. Risk assessments are much more improvement oriented. What more should you do? What more would be reasonable in the circumstances? What would be a reasonable thing to do given the level of risk and the standards in industry? and what does the law require you to do and so on?

So that is the critical difference. For all you budding health and safety professionals and anyone else who’s kind of new to risk assessment, risk assessments are about potential hazards and potential risks. Safety inspections are about what is actually wrong today.

Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the difference between risk assessment and safety inspections.

Take care.