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Why is risk assessment like cleaning your teeth?

Most people in the “developed” world would agree that cleaning your teeth is a good idea. The amount of sugar and other ingredients in a modern diet which will attack teeth and gums mean that failing to clean your teeth will have significant negative consequences. Making a conscious decision to include that process into your daily routine is accepted by the vast majority of people as the right thing to do. Worryingly, statistics show that around half of the adult population of the USA do not brush their teeth twice a day.

What are the consequences if we don’t clean our teeth? Through failing to adopt this relatively simple and accessible process we are asking for trouble. A British Medical Journal study in 2010 showed that people who brushed their teeth less than twice a day were 70% more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, inflammation and loss of connective tissue.

The personal consequences of these medical issues will never be positive. Any minimal short-term benefits of not implementing an effective cleaning regime, such as time saving, will soon be heavily outweighed by the negative outcomes. The pain, cost and distress caused by cavities, gum disease and associated problems will be of a much greater scale.

So what do we need to allow us to clean our teeth effectively?

First we need a suitable tool to do the job – a toothbrush, and some toothpaste ideally. There is a range of toothbrushes available for us to select from, and if we choose carefully we will find one that is fit for the purpose intended.

Secondly we need to have an idea how to carry out the process. Thankfully there is much advice and guidance available, from parents, dentists, on the TV and Internet, so that effective brushing becomes an accessible process.

So, what has this got to do with risk assessment?

Let’s compare the two processes. Just like brushing our teeth, in the world of safety and compliance, risk assessment has been accepted as the right thing to do. It is a process designed to protect us all from significant negative consequences. Making the decision to integrate risk assessment into your design processes on a routine basis has to be the right thing to do.

What would be the consequences of failing to integrate risk assessment into our design processes? Any machine designed without consideration for hazards and risks is going to become an accident waiting to happen. History has shown, regrettably, that a large number of tragic accidents could have been avoided by effective risk assessment. Even today, the frequency of avoidable industrial accidents leading to injury or death is much too high.

The associated consequences of such accidents can be terrible. Over and above the obvious issues of serious injury, death, bereaved families and disrupted lives there are the implications on the designers of such machinery. The directors of companies who create dangerous machinery can be held ultimately responsible for the consequences of accidents and are liable to face prosecution, often so severe that the companies concerned never recover.

OK so what do we need to allow us to carry out risk assessment effectively?

Again, as above, we need a suitable tool to do the job. Also as above there are a range of tools available, but how can we choose one that is fit for purpose?

We also need to know, just like when brushing your teeth, how to carry out the process. Where can we access this type of guidance?

The answers in this case are not so straightforward. Choosing the right risk assessment tool can be a real challenge. Some spreadsheet based tools are available but they assume and require that you have an expert level of knowledge of how to carry out the process. Unlike advice on cleaning your teeth, clear guidance on the risk assessment process is not easy to access.

An effective risk assessment tool is one which makes the process accessible and guides you through it from end-to-end in a logical sequence. References should be made to the relevant standards and detailed help and guidance should be available at each stage to ensure that the process is correctly followed. Once completed, the tool should provide a compliance report to verify the success of the risk assessment process.

If you would benefit from free access to an effective risk assessment tool for machinery design then click below to get started with DesignSpark Safety.

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25 Sep 2017, 10:49