Dynamic Risk Assessment: How to Stay Safe in High-Risk Situations

You may have heard that your business needs to do a risk assessment for your lone workers, but what about a dynamic risk assessment? 

While the two use many of the same principles, a dynamic risk assessment is designed to be used by employees when a situation requires immediate decision making.

Both have their place, of course, and a formal lone worker risk assessment is required to craft a good health and safety policy for the business as a whole.

In this article, we will cover how a dynamic risk assessment will help your organisation keep your lone workers safe while out in the field.

The difference between a formal and dynamic risk assessment

A formal risk assessment is a methodical way to identify the different possible risks that could happen in the workplace, assess how likely it is that they will occur, and then implement the solutions to minimise these risks. 

These are typically conducted regularly on a formal basis by supervisors or a health and safety specialist. It is a hypothetical approach to project what could cause an incident and mitigate or eliminate the root causes in advance. Ideally, the goal of this approach is to avoid incidents altogether. However, should incidents still happen, the impact will be minimal.

Meanwhile, dynamic risk assessments are often required for high-risk roles where an extra layer of awareness and protection is needed. It is a more malleable method that clears the way for businesses to assess risk based on real-time situations rather than hypothetical scenarios mapped out beforehand.

Instead of a formal, scheduled approach to identify risks of possible future incidents and managing them, a dynamic risk assessment involves continually monitoring, analysing and reacting to risk in a changing, high-risk environment. This enables workers to identify and remove risks quickly before they escalate into major hazards. 

Another main difference is that workers usually perform dynamic risk assessments on ‘the ground’, sometimes with and sometimes without a formal record using physical or digital templates. 

Dynamic risk assessments that are conducted without a formal record are usually conducted spontaneously in critical situations where the process is largely based on the employee’s instincts and the evidence presented directly in front of them.

The importance of dynamic risk assessments for lone workers

By building on the central concepts and practises of a formal risk assessment, a dynamic risk assessment takes things one step further to monitor, analyse, and react to high-risk situations in real-time. 

Like a formal risk assessment, this means companies are proactive with their policies rather than reactive, which can make a big difference in high-risk situations.

Dynamic risk assessments are based on more granular, detailed information and can be adapted and changed quickly if a situation changes. They are especially useful for protecting lone workers, as there are often hazards that only those doing the day-to-day job are aware of.

The people who are most likely to benefit from a dynamic risk assessment include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Care providers visiting people in their homes
  • Retail workers
  • Security guards 
  • Police
  • Healthcare professionals

How to conduct a formal risk assessment

Every business needs to do a formal risk assessment to meet legal health and safety requirements. The results should be used as part of a broader health and safety policy that covers employees, contractors, customers, and anyone else who the business could impact.

Businesses with lone workers must conduct a specific lone worker risk assessment and lone working safety policy. The steps for this include:

  • Identifying environmental hazards posed to your employees, e.g. slips, trips and falls; working at height
  • Identifying social hazards, e.g. working with the public
  • Ensuring basic needs are catered for, e.g. drinking water; access to bathrooms
  • Create a policy based on the results - if you have more than five employees, write it down
  • Make this policy available to all staff
  • Assign someone to be in charge of enforcing health and safety measures

Read this step-by-step guide for more details on how to conduct a lone worker risk assessment, and download this lone worker risk assessment template to get started.

How to conduct a dynamic risk assessment

Dynamic risk assessments will differ according to each specific situation. However, they do follow these basic steps:

  1. Scan the current workplace environment.
  2. Identifying present dangers.
  3. Analysing the level of risk or threat. 
  4. Choosing the necessary corrective or preventive measures. 
  5. Assigning the corrective or preventive measures to those who should address the issue.

Example of a dynamic risk assessment in action

Let’s take an example of a civil engineering firm.

This firm would typically conduct formal risk assessments of a construction site to identify and mitigate risks such as working from height, electrical hazards, machinery risks, etc. 

The preventive and corrective measures that result from these formal risk assessments can include safety gear, buddy systems when working from height, removing electrical hazards, and so on. 

On the other hand, a dynamic risk assessment is conducted more frequently as and when the situation calls for it. For example, if an engineer needs to inspect hazardous machinery for maintenance or repair, and they need to conduct the work alone, then they should conduct a dynamic risk assessment before proceeding. The steps can look like this:

  1. Scan the current workplace environment

    First, the engineer checks the environment surrounding the hazardous machinery. Is there anything that could fall and trap him? If they’re outdoors, will the current weather be a hazard to the task at hand? Is the safety equipment in good condition?

  2. Identify present dangers

    After scanning the current workplace, the engineer should list down any present dangers identified, if any. Let’s say, for example, the engineer noticed the safety harness rope is compromised.

  3. Analyse the level of risk or threat

    If the engineer needs to work from height, then the risk of using the compromised safety harness rope is too high of a risk to proceed.

  4. Choosing the necessary corrective or preventive measures

    Here, the engineer can get a different safety harness rope that is in good condition to secure him.

  5. Assigning the corrective or preventive measures to those who should address the issue

    After completing the job, the engineer needs to report the compromised safety harness and assign it to the relevant person in charge of managing inventory and purchasing safety equipment.

While some things can be prepared ahead of time, such as equipping workers at risk with tools like lone worker alarms, dynamic risk assessments still play a critical role in preventing accidents in high-risk environments or situations.

Training your lone workers for a dynamic risk assessment

Often, the steps for conducting a dynamic risk assessment need to happen in a matter of seconds. Unlike formal risk assessments based on hypothetical situations, dynamic risk assessments don’t have the luxury of pondering decisions.

This is why training your lone workers to be prepared for dynamic risk assessments is key.

Training will not just help them react faster because they know what steps to take, but it will also help minimise the chances of them panicking in a high-risk situation. Avoiding panic is critical to safety because risk-aversion decisions are best made with a clear mind.  

Here are some pointers on how to train your lone workers to conduct a dynamic risk assessment. 

  1. Make sure your lone workers know the hazards to look out for

    Each lone working role and situation is different, so every lone worker must be aware of what hazards to look out for.

    Here, having a template or checklist that the lone worker can refer to can be helpful to make sure they have covered all bases when conducting a dynamic risk assessment.

    Digital inspection tools like Workflows can be used to create inspection templates that make dynamic risk assessments easier to conduct without missing out on something important. 
  1. Make sure they are aware of possible solutions

    For each situation, your lone workers must also be aware of the possible solutions at hand, so they can quickly run a cost-benefit analysis on each solution. For example, the lab worker knows that the solutions at hand are a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket, a fire alarm, windows, and exhaust fumes.

    Upon seeing the smoke, the worker can decide whether it’s safe to approach the source of the smoke to put it out, and if so, whether to use a fire extinguisher or fire blanket. If it’s not a fire but something else that’s burning smoke, the worker needs to decide if they can safely put on a gas mask, open a window, or turn on the exhaust fumes so they can approach the source and mitigate it.

    If the smoke is coming from machinery, they should know who to call and how to shut down the machine if they can do so safely. They should also know how to evaluate when it’s necessary to activate the fire alarm and vacate the premises immediately. 

  2. Provide specific training to improve reaction

    Is there additional training that can improve how your lone workers react in a high-risk situation? For example, a retail worker could benefit from body language training, while a security guard could benefit from self-defence classes.
  1. Conduct role-play training regularly

    Role-play training is like fire drills. It puts your employees in the actual situation that could happen and requires them to think and react quickly. 

    Regularly training your staff this way can significantly help them avoid panic when caught in a high-risk situation that demands a dynamic risk assessment.
  1. Continually receive feedback to improve training

    Lastly, it’s important to continually get feedback from your on-ground workers and analyse your hazard and incident reports to improve your training further.

Be prepared for anything

The notion of creating and implementing a more agile way of assessing risk for your organisation is particularly appropriate for 2022, which has created or heightened many additional hazards and barriers for employees working in some of the most high-risk roles. 

The healthcare worker mentioned above would also need to consider whether they and the occupant both had the required PPE to safely be closer than 2 metres apart, for example, whereas this probably would not have been the case before.

One big part of being able to assess risk while you are in the moment of ‘on the fly’ is developing a heightened awareness of your surroundings. This could mean being able to read body language or having such an understanding of environmental dangers that they can be identified almost immediately upon entering a space.

One of the best ways to keep your lone worker policy practical and up-to-date is to speak with employees about their experiences on the job.

Offering the appropriate advice and training on dynamic risk assessment means that they will be more able to offer actionable information that can then be used to protect them and their colleagues in the future.

How can we help?

Ensuring workers are better able to assess risk is a significant first step towards keeping them safe, but they also need the tools to take action when a situation is deemed unsafe.

Often this can take the form of training in de-escalation tactics if someone is threatening them, or it can be something like a personal safety alarm or another piece of equipment. 

Giving these devices to employees who may find themselves in a scenario that puts their safety at risk allows them to call for help discreetly. Or if they are incapacitated and are unable to do so, many lone worker alarms are equipped with a built-in Man Down sensor that detects when the user has fallen. 

To find out more about how Vatix can help you to keep employees safe, or if you want to learn more about our services, contact us or call us on 020 3991 5555.

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