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Paperwork is Pointless...

Paperwork is pointless if you don't do the rest of the work.

This is a general rule that applies in most cases, but what got my thinking about it today was in relation to safety paperwork such as risk assessments and method statements. Earlier this week, a company was fined after a worker was killed on a construction site.

The worker was crushed by an excavator during refueling operations:

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that refuelling of plant and equipment was identified as a high risk activity by the principal contractor who had created a task briefing document detailing a safe system of work and had risk assessed the said activity. However, it is evident that although these procedures existed in documentary format the safe system of work and its control measures had not been fully implemented at the construction site.

Source HSE Press Release

This was one of my pet peeves when I was an operations engineer. Some contractor workpacks required my approval prior to starting work. Almost every time, the work pack would include a risk assessment and method statement that was completely useless. They frequently went into lots of detail about how folk would get to the worksite and tidy up etc, but were completely lacking in detail of how they would actually do the job itself. The risk assessments tended to be very generic items again not really specific to the tasks. And of course if you went and actually spoke to the guys doing the job, they would have been handed a copy of the work pack but would probably not have read it, centanly wouldn't be using it to inform them how to do the job.

As far as I could see, all the effort of producing the risk assessment and method statement was a complete waste of time. I suspect that the only reason it was made was to satisfy a legal requirement. But that legal requirement states that it must be ‘suitable and sufficient’. If the control measures required by the assessment are not being followed, then it didn’t do its job.

In my early career, one of my mentors liked to sum up a risk assessment as:

What about this job scares you?
What are you doing about it?

It is a couple of questions I continue to like to ask folk who are doing any job. If they can list the top 3 things that scare them, and they are the same ones in the risk assessment, then things are probably working fine. If they give you completely different answers, or worse, struggle to answer at all, then you might need to have a longer discussion.

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