A recent HSE case has highlighted the potential danger of relying on generic, rather than site-specific, risk assessments. This is also something that we see regularly, it is of the up most importance that you make your generic or pre works risk assessment site / works specific to cover all the workplace hazards and risks.
The HSE prosecuted Veolia following an accident at one of its recycling facilities. The investigation identified that a worker was struck and injured by a falling bale of waste. He suffered fractures to his face and skull plus brain injuries. The waste was stacked in unsupported columns three bales high. The fact that they weren’t tied into the rows behind left them unstable and prone to collapse. To make matters worse, bales were also placed across the top of the stack.

In court. The HSE investigation found that Veolia had not completed a site-specific risk assessment. Instead, it relied on a generic risk assessment that listed controls for presumed levels of risk. Also, it hadn’t followed HSE guidance which identified that the bales should be interlinked and overlapped. Veolia was charged with an offence under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 . It was fined £450,000, with £11,676 costs.

There’s nothing stopping you from using generic risk assessments. But, as this case identifies, if you do you must ensure that they accurately reflect the risks found on your site. This case makes it clear that if the HSE has provided explicit guidance on how a task should be completed, and your systems aren’t as safe, you can expect your decision to be challenged.

If your risk assessments might not reflect your operations, then a review is required. Check that all significant risks are covered, e.g. suitable storage of materials, work at height, traffic movements, etc., and most importantly that your control measures reduce the level of risk sufficiently.

Review your arrangements against those detailed in the HSE’s guidance, these can be found on the HSE website. You don’t have to follow it to the letter; however, your arrangements must be at least as effective as those identified. Remember you may have to justify your actions and decisions, so make the right choice!