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Risk Reduction

By identifying the various hazards that could cause harm, a great deal of useful information can be gathered about what could go wrong.  However, the Risk Assessment process is not complete until the preventative and protective measures are evaluated, and any new measures are brought into place of they are deemed to be required.

Risk Reduction Hierarchy

A general hierarchy of control measures is outlined below.  It is useful to follow some kind of structured approach to decide what to do to reduce the risks to a lower level.  With each hazard that has been identified as part of the Risk Assessment, work down the list and decide if, and how, any of them could apply. 

The items closer to the top of the list generally provide for a safer environment (sometimes called the 'safe place strategy') which is overall a much better way to control risk.  Those lower down the list are dependent on the people that work with or near the hazard to implement them (sometimes called the 'safe person strategy') and are, therefore, less effective. 

Each item has a number of stars next to it, which is a guide to how effective the method is at reducing hazards. Star

    Eliminate  StarStarStarStarStar
    This is about the complete removal of the hazard.  For example, a dangerous piece of equipment can be removed.  However, this does not mean that trivial issues need to be eliminated outright - some risk is an inherent part of day-to-day life and elimination is probably not proportional to the risk.  There is no reason why things like fund raising events, children's trips and other activities need to be banned where sensible steps can be brought in to prevent real safety issues causing harm to people.

    Reduce  StarStarStarStar
    Some risks are dependent on a measurable value, such as the quantity of a substance used, the length of time exposed to noise or the distance from an object.   For example, the organist might wish to practice at full volume for some pieces during a rehearsal, where all others are played at a reduced volume to lower the risk of hearing damage.  Conversely, the organist may reduce the duration of their rehearsals to limit the time exposed to the volume.

    Substitute  StarStarStar
    Replace the hazard with something that is less hazardous.  For example, replace a caustic cleaning substance with a non-caustic one, or a powdered cleaning material with a liquid one (because the powder causes a hazard to health when dust is released as it is poured out).  This might mean that the existing ways of doing things need to be adapted to the latest advances in technology or best practice.

    Isolate or segregate  StarStarStar
    Remove the hazard from the person, or the person from the hazard.  For example, prevent people from accessing high-up places where there is a risk of falling and confined spaces by locking access doors to towers and basement areas.

    Control   StarStar
    Use 'Engineering Controls', including machine guards, local exhaust ventilation (extraction systems) and other technology.  For example, use a machine guard to prevent someone touching the moving parts of the organ blower.

    Procedure  StarStar
    Design safe working practices to carry a task and reduce the exposure to hazards.  For example, instructing someone to use equipment safely.  This can have limited use in Churches and Places of Worship owing to the large numbers of Volunteers who might not be willing to follow such rules, and members of the public who could not be expected to follow procedures without close supervision.

    Warning signs  Star
    Display instructions or posters.  For example, signs warning of uneven floor surfaces.  Signs should always meet the requirements for a warning sign (yellow triangle with black border and symbols) and should be used when the other possibilities have been exhausted but there is still a risk present that needs to be controlled adequately.  Signs can be useful when the above measures have not been able to reduce the risk down enough, and are not normally adequate by themselves to control risk.

    Personal protective equipment  Star
    This includes: gloves, goggles / safety glasses, hard hats, bump caps, respiratory protective equipment, safety footwear and fall arrest equipment.  Use as a last resort only when it is not practical to control the hazard by other means, or when the other measures still do not reduce the risk enough.  For example, using gloves for low-hazard cleaning solutions that are only used briefly.

Priority should be given collective control measures, those being measures that protect more than one person at the same time, over measures that only protect only one person at a time.  As an example, a guard rail on a roof accessed by maintenance personnel provides protection for more than one person who might be at work, while a fall arrest harness can only protect the person using the harness; all workers need their own fall arrest harness.

It can also be beneficial to use a number of the above methods to create the desired level of risk reduction.  If this is done, it needs a clear approach to make sure that all the chosen methods work together in harmony and none conflict with any of the other control measures that have been put into place.

Reasonably Practicable: Risk vs. Controls

In Health and Safety terminology, the phrase that is often used in legislation is 'Reasonably Practicable'.  This means that the preventative and protective measures that are put into place must balance with the risk, by taking into account the time, effort, trouble and money needed to put them into place.

Lower risks would require a lower degree of preventative and protective measures, while higher risks might need a package of measures to be put into place.  This is why Risk Assessment is key - without this, it is not possible to decide where to prioritise the risk-reduction efforts.

The simplest things (which can be simple and free) often are found to work the best for many of the common hazards found in Places of Worship.  There is certainly no need to remove all hazards, just manage them so that you can provide a good level of Health and Safety for all who use the building. 

It can also be counterproductive to put too much control into place.  If a hazard is seen to be disproportionately controlled, people might ignore the risk and bypass the safety measures.  Health and Safety is often wrongly dismissed for requiring overzealous measures to be put into place, however, this need not be the case so long as risk is reduced to a low enough level.

What works?

The first and most important point to note is that all risk assessments are uniquely different.  This has the implication that all protective and preventative measures will, to some degree or other vary too.  Just copying what someone else does without first thinking about it is no guarantee that it is the right thing to do.

While it is a good idea to look to see what works for other people, the control measures that are required in one premises might vary depending on things such as the number of people, the mix of chidden to adults, if there are people with special needs, features of the building or variations in equipment being used.  This should have already been thought about in the Risk Assessment.

As a basic test to see if what you have planned will be adequate ask yourself four questions:

Will it work?
Will it reduce the risks enough and be effective?
Will people put it into place or will it be ignored / bypassed?
Is it too complex or burdensome?
Does it rely on people to do things (they may forget)?

Can it be done?
Is what you plan possible when considering cost, time or other constraints?
Is there any reason why your plans cannot be put into place?
Will it have too great an impact on what you do?

Will it cause any other safety problems?
How will the proposal affect other people or impact other Risk Assessments?
Does it take into consideration any regulations that are in force?
Does is move a problem from one place to another?
Does it rely too much on people doing a certain thing in a certain way?

Is it proportional to the risk?
Are high risks married with higher level control?
Are low risks married with lower levels of control?
Are the normal risks of life overly compensated for?
Do the measures adversely affect "the way we do things here" when the risk is actually quite small already?

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