FAQ: Generic risk assessments

Can you inform me as to the adequacy and legal position of generic risk assessments. I seem to receive a lot of these from both internal and external sources who insist that there is no issue with such an approach.

Generic assessments are common place for activities which are repetitive and consistent in application for organisations. However, there has been a tendency for some to view such an approach as totally satisfying the need for all employers to adequately control health and safety risk within their workplace. This may lead to out of date assessments being used which do not consider specific risks. Some may even be copies or ‘cut and paste’ versions of previous assessments for other similar tasks but under totally different circumstances. The use of such an approach without ongoing consideration as to adequacy is ill advised.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 indicate that as a part of the risk assessment process, all assessments across your organisation must be suitable and sufficient. This means that they have to be developed by a competent person, be relevant and accurate in relation to the activity at hand and be of the right breadth and depth to adequately address all significant issues – including the control of risk, the mechanisms for which must be possible to implement.

Generic risk assessments can be perfectly acceptable in relation to these requirements. However, for an assessment to remain suitable and sufficient within the requirements of the regulations, it must also be kept under review. This means that at any time during which the originator (or any other person involved in the process) feels that such a review is required because of a change in circumstance or re-evaluation of assessment suitability, then such a review should take place.

The same is required in the case of generic assessments. In general terms, they are an effective way to ensure that activities are included within the scope of the risk assessment process but they must be the subject of review in the same way as the development of any new assessment. Therefore, prior to the implementation of any generic assessment during the planning and execution of workplace activity, suitability must be reviewed and maintained. Failure to do this may result in additional hazards and associated risks being missed, environmental conditions or the personnel involved in the activity being different to that which was planned for, and so on. In real terms, this will mean that the aforementioned tests of adequacy will not have been fulfilled.

As a result of the review, the generic assessment may prove to be totally acceptable and therefore suitable and sufficient for purpose. It may also prove to be a worthy exercise to bring to the fore additional issues which may otherwise have gone unchecked.

Finally, although the completion of assessments in your example does not imply you as being the employer as duty holder necessarily, your consideration as to how those who devise and then supply this documentation decide upon adequacy in relation to suitability and sufficiency will help you uphold your own due diligence and satisfaction that work undertaken in relation to the assessment can proceed safely for all concerned.