Explain how risk assessment can help address dilemmas between rights and health and safety concerns

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

Risk assessment is an essential component of working in health and social care as it enables the individuals we work with to make informed choices and helps to minimise the impact of workplace risks. It is also the legal duty of both employers and employees to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of themselves and others. Therefore risks must be monitored and dealt with efficiently. For example, if you observe a spillage in your workplace, you should either clean it up yourself or report it to the relevant person, usually your manager, for them to arrange the clean up. In the meantime, you should ensure the spillage is cordoned off to minimise risk to others. Ignoring hazards could result in harm to others and could leave you culpable for this.

The risk assessment process involves identifying which activities have the potential to cause harm and then to look at ways of minimising that risk or removing the risk altogether. This does not mean that risks should not be taken, however they should not be taken needlessly and processes and controls must be in place to reduce the risk of harm.

The risk assessment process usually consists of five steps:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Identify who may be at risk
  3. Evaluate the risks and address them
  4. Record findings on a risk assessment
  5. Review the risk assessment periodically

Many people initially struggle with the idea of risk assessments because they feel that they are complicated, however in reality they are very simple and just require a bit of time and common sense. For example, I recently performed a risk assessment relating to an individual with a mild learning disability cooking in the kitchen. By supporting the individual to cook their dinner, I was able to observe the potential risks:

  1. Identify the hazards – the individual has good basic cooking skills, however they neglected to wash their hands before handling food and required prompts. They had good fine motor skills when chopping meat and vegetables but again would not have washed their hands between handling the raw meat and veg without prompts. When questioned, they did not understand the importance of handwashing. No issues with using the cooker.
  2. Identify who may be at risk – The individual may be at risk of food poisoning. Also, friends and family that the individual cooks for may be at risk.
  3. Evaluate the risks and address them – Risks can be mitigated by ensuring support staff are present to prompt the individual to wash their hands appropriately. Staff could also assist with the individual’s understanding of the importance of handwashing or the individual may wish to attend a local workshop on food hygiene.
  4. Record findings on a risk assessment – All this information was recorded on a risk assessment form.
  5. Review the risk assessment periodically – This risk assessment was set to be reviewed in two months to assess the individual’s progress in their food hygiene understanding.

When writing risk assessments relating to the individuals that you work with, it is important that you work in partnership with them to ensure a person-centred approach to your practice. Remember that unless their are mitigating circumstances, the individual will usually have the choice about they follow the advice you provide so keeping them involved enables them to make informed decisions. Sometimes, the simple act of sitting down with an individual and completing a risk assessment with them helps them to realise the potential risks of a pursuit and dissuade them from doing it.

Risks assessments can be useful for addressing dilemmas between an individual’s rights and health and safety concerns.

All individuals have the right to make their own decisions (even unwise ones) and take risks. As a support worker, we should not tell an individual that they cannot do something or try to influence their decisions because of our beliefs and opinions.

However, we can help individuals to weigh up the pros and cons of their choices by assessing the potential risks and balancing them against the potential benefits. The risk assessment process can also help us to minimise or eliminate the risk associated with things that an individual wants to do.

For example an individual with very limited physical movement may want to go to the local swimming baths despite not being able to swim. By assessing the risks with their support worker, they identify that primary risk of drowning can be easily mitigated by ensuring they use a flotation device (life jacket) and having support staff with them at all times. The risk assessment process has supported the individual to pursue an activity they want to do whilst ensuring health and safety risks are reduced to an acceptable level.

Example question and answer

James is 19 years old; he lives with his parents, twice a week he goes bowling or to the cinema with his support workers. They also go with him to the local college where he is studying Horticulture. At his last care planning meeting James expressed a wish to live independently with someone of his own age. His mother is against any change; she has dedicated her life to caring for him since he was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. She is particularly worried that James will be at risk because he has limited experience of living independently. She is concerned he will make himself ill because he has limited experience of general health and safety in the kitchen and has no understanding about food safety. She will not discuss it with James or the social care workers. James is very angry with her.   

Explain how a risk assessment might help address dilemmas between James’s rights and the health and safety concerns expressed by his mother.

A risk assessment will identify any potential risks to James’ health and safety and put procedures and action plans in place to minimise them.

All individuals have the right to take risks and explaining this to James’ mother along with the purpose of the risk assessment may help her to understand that she is causing a barrier to his independence.

Creating a risk assessment in partnership with an individual, their family, support staff and other professionals can help everybody to understand the risks involved in an activity and can highlight potential risks that may not have previously been considered. It would make James and his mother aware of the risks and allow them to develop strategies to reduce the risk as much as possible, whilst also allowing James to exercise his right to be independent. It will also help James to understand the responsibilities he will have for the safety of himself and others.

Having developed solutions to minimise potential risks, the risk assessment should be written up and reviewed on a regular basis to identify any changes that need to be made.