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Written by
on 25 July 2013


Risk assessment textWhen is a Risk Assessment not a Risk Assessment

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is generally preferable to complete a risk assessment before carrying out a particular job, rather than writing the risk assessment up afterwards. However, this is a truth which seemed to pass one Lincolnshire company by.

This week Grantham Magistrates’ Court heard a case involving a former employee of PAS (Grantham) Ltd, a Lincolnshire frozen potato products firm. The employee was tasked with overseeing the cleaning of a large oil storage tank, and in order to do this properly he stepped over the guard rails on the gantry above the tank in order to see how this was progressing.

As he did so he knocked a pipe which was carrying boiling hot oil, and the connection to a pressure gauge came loose. This resulted in him being sprayed with a large volume of oil over 160 degrees Celsius all over his upper body, including his shoulders, neck, chest and back.

Fortunately a nearby employee immediately rushed him to an emergency shower, but even so the employee suffered 10 per cent burns which resulted in him being off work for over a month.

Incredibly the company decided to have the worker carry out the work first, and intended to carry out and write up a risk assessment afterwards.

As a result of this action the company was fined £16,500 and ordered to pay £571 in costs due to breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

An Unhealthy Impression Of What Health And Safety Is About

It seems amazing that the company didn’t merely overlook the need for a risk assessment, but actually felt that it was acceptable to carry out an assessment after the event.

What on earth point would there ever be in writing up a risk assessment when the job has already been done?

And how on earth can employees expect to be kept safe if potential risks haven’t been identified first, offering the opportunity to take appropriate measures to mitigate those risks?

I think the real answer here is that this company, and it is far from being alone, fell into the trap of seeing health and safety as nothing more than a bureaucratic form filling waste of time. Having seen the devastating results of this lack of foresight and understanding (which of course could have been so much worse) it is highly probable that they will be more aware of the very real need to take it seriously in future.

But is that what it takes? Is it really necessary for an innocent employee to suffer appalling injuries, or for a family to lose a loved one just so that a company wakes up to the realisation that health and safety is not bureaucratic nonsense, but is about keeping people safe every day?

If you would like to discuss any health and safety concerns you may have feel free to talk to one of our Health and Safety Advisors on 0800 1488 677 and they will be happy to help answer any questions, or organise a full health and safety inspection if necessary.

About the author

David Cant is a Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME’s favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.