Improve your Process and Understand Why Risk Assessments Fail
One of the most important safety processes that a facility needs to perform is the risk assessment. These assessments can help you to identify potential problems, so that you can make the changes necessary to avoid hazards. While these assessments are an essential tool, they aren’t infallible, which is why there are still accidents and injuries in the workplace.
All facilities should, therefore, attempt to improve their assessment process to help benefit the outcome. Asking yourself why risk assessments fail is an excellent place to begin as it will point you in the direction of finding the root cause of these issues, so you can make improvements.
“A risk assessment is a process to identify potential hazards and analyze what could happen if a hazard occurs. A business impact analysis (BIA) is the process for determining the potential impacts resulting from the interruption of time sensitive or critical business processes.” – Ready.gov
With that in mind, review the following five common reasons why risk assessments fail so you can learn how to improve your processes and help make your facility safer.
Reason #1 – No Formalized Process
One of the biggest mistakes that safety managers make is performing a risk assessment without a formal process in place. Instead, they will assemble a group of people to look at a specific process, for example, and everyone will attempt to identify potential risks or hazards.
While this can be an effective way to find potential problems, it is not sufficient to gain all the benefits that can be realized from a formal process. Having a proven risk assessment process will help you to look at the potential hazards in a more holistic way, which helps you to avoid overlooking any problems.
In addition to helping to ensure things aren’t missed, having a formal process can help the entire experience go more quickly so that you can complete the task on schedule. This is, of course, very important since risk assessments are often a critical step in new procedures or other activities, and it can cause significant delays if not done properly.
Reason #2 – No or Poorly Defined Acceptable Risk Levels
Many safety managers and other leaders in facilities think that their goal should be to eliminate all risk from each process. While this is an admirable goal, it is not realistic. This is why every facility should have their acceptable risk levels well defined before attempting to complete any risk assessment.
Without understanding the acceptable risk levels, the risk assessment will likely fail because it could go on indefinitely. Every time a new risk is identified, it will add a lengthy process of finding a way to reduce or eliminate the risk, and then the process will just continue to loop indefinitely.
At some point, the improvement in safety becomes cost prohibitive. To put it another way, the costs associated with eliminating certain risks makes it not worth it based on the severity of the risk being addressed. For example, it may be possible to cut a fall risk by .5% with the investment in a $1 million dollar safety system. If the fall hazard is only minor, this will obviously not be worth the investment.
With this in mind, all facilities should define their risk tolerance so that they can focus their efforts on getting to that level of safety.
Reason #3 – Poor Timing of the Risk Assessment
Another common reason why risk assessments fail is because they are performed at the wrong time. Some facilities, for example, will only perform the risk assessment after the process is in place. At this late stage of procedure development, it may be difficult or very expensive to make changes to address specific hazards.
This is why it is so important to make sure that risk assessments are performed throughout the product or process development phases, as well as just before it is launched. The following are some key times when a risk review team should be watching for hazards, and providing input.
- Planning Stages – Having a risk team member involved in the planning stages of any new product or procedure is an excellent way to find problems before they actually exist. This can be a very effective way to cut the costs that are normally associated with risk management, since the changes will only be in the planning stages.
- Finalized Plans – Once the plans have been finalized a risk assessment should be performed. This can often identify specific risks that are present in the plans, so that they can be adjusted before the actual work begins.
- Production Implementation – If the new process is a production system, the risk team should periodically review the progress and watch for potential dangers. If it is a procedure update, the risk team can monitor the actual training and implementation to see if there are any hazards that were missed in previous steps.
- Pre–Launch – When everything is in place to ‘go live’ a final risk assessment should be performed. If the other steps were completed properly, this will be a fairly short process and shouldn’t come up with many new issues. It is still a good idea, however, to do all you can to analyze the new processes before they are officially launched.
- Post-Launch – Sometime after the new processes or procedures are put in place there should be another risk assessment. This could be a week after launch, a month, or even longer. Whatever the case, this can be a great way to identify flaws that were not found in previous steps.
Of course, ongoing risk assessments can be very helpful as well. Planning how often a full assessment should be performed will help ensure you don’t go to long between assessments.
Reason #4 – Wrong Team Members
Another frequent issue that causes problems with risk assessments is that the wrong people are on the team. There are two different sides to this. The first issue occurs when a facility has a set team of people that perform risk assessments, and they never include team members from the impacted areas.
This causes problems because people who don’t experience the day to day activities in an area being reviewed will often overlook potential hazards.
On the other side of the coin are facilities that have one main safety manager and then have the rest of the risk assessment team come from the area being reviewed. This makes it too likely that the team involved will overlook problems that they are aware of because they don’t want to deal with getting them fixed.
Finding the right balance for your facility can be difficult, but once you do it, you will have much more successful risk assessments in the future.
Reason #5 – No Authority
The last reason why risk assessments fail to be discussed here is when the assessment team has no authority to require changes be made. This often happens in facilities, and the result is almost always that the risk assessments lose all meaning. They become a waste of time since few, if any, of their recommendations are actually implemented.
This is why you should have a member of senior management or another facility leader either directly on the team, or backing it completely. This way everyone knows that the risk assessments are an important part of any change new process in the facility.
Risk Assessments are Important
When taken seriously, risk assessments can help to prevent a lot of problems within the facility. They aren’t always easy to implement, but it is well worth the effort. Take some time to look through how your facility handles this important process, and see if you can identify why risk assessments fail for you.