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Risk Assessment for Science and Engineering

This slideshow explains where the concept of risk assessment comes from and why risk assessment is so important to everything that we do.

Slide 1 - Risk assessment should prevent incidents, accidents and near misses occurring at the University.

There are a number of enforcing agencies (Slide 2) that are relevant to the University Sector and these are the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency and the Home Office. There is also industrial guidance and national and international standards that may help shape our research, as well as our own University Policies and Procedures and those set by our own HE accreditation organisations that may be relevant to our work.

These should help you to evaluate the standards required to be met by any research that you supervise.

In terms of health and safety legislation, although there are many pieces of statute, (some of which are given in Slide 3), the common denominator is that all require some form of risk assessment. Well planned research should identify hazards, evaluate risks and should introduce controls to bring the risks down to an acceptable level. This should ideally reduce the risk to zero, but it is recognised that this is not always possible, so other controls, preferably those that do not rely on human intervention should be implemented prior to reliance on human behaviour. Where the risks are considered ‘significant’ there must be documentation that verifies what is required to be put ito place, how the work will be conducted, by who and where, and suitable records should be maintained as appropriate. Your Department may have their own preferred method for recording this where this applies. Departmental, Local Rules or standard procedures already in place should initially be checked to verify if these are already sufficient before generating any new documentation. If they are, then simply reference to these whilst ensuring that you and/or the students are following the necessary precautions would be appropriate. If not, then it would be expected for written information to be prepared and agreed by you as Research Supervisor.

Well planned research, should identify hazards, evaluate risks and establish what controls are required to bring the risks down to an acceptable level. Reading around the subject and learning from what research has gone before should help you and your students establish what is already known, even in areas that are new and novel. It is important to establish any gaps in knowledge before the practical research starts and start small, to gather information and gain confidence that the risk controls are sufficient and that the methodology is appropriate. Thought should go into any hazards introduced and those that could arise as a consequence of the research during ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ or emergency situations or when taking the research to the point of failure if this is relevant. There will be alot of research in the Science and Engineering departments that will also or solely involve working with a computer and for guidance on how to work comfortable with a computer, laptop or other monitor, reference to 'Computer Workstations' should be made. Students similarly should use this guidance to help them to set up their workstations, chairs and accessories correctly. Where the research involves chemicals, then the COSHH Regulations will apply and suitable consideration should be paid to the safe storage, handling, use, transportation and disposal of the materials to ensure that they do not cause damage or harm. If the research involves use of equipment or machinery, then PUWER will apply, but so too could other more specific legislation such as LOLER (lifting operations and lifting equipment), pressure equipment, electricity at work, noise/vibration, artificial optical radiation (lasers), radiation, etc. It is important to ratify if anything specific applies to the field of research you are working in and to assess the impact of this. As a Research Supervisor you should also pay due consideration to ensure that persons under your control who have a pre-existing medical condition or who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not put at risk by virtue of the work they or others are doing or proposing to do. Well planned and risk assessed research will more than likely already meet the requirements of many pieces of legislation, however there will be some specifics that will require a further evaluation of risk and these should be identified at the planning stage, seeking the advice of perhaps other Research Supervisors, Technicians or an Advisor from the Health and Safety Department as appropriate.

Risk assessment will be conducted in the conventional way but the method of recording will vary. Providing as a Researcher, you can demonstrate that the controls that are being put into place are adequate for conducting the research, then this should be ‘suitable and sufficient’. Where again, the risks are identified as ‘significant’, there must be documentation that verifies these arrangements and suitable records maintained as appropriate. Reflection should be made with any Departmental or Local Rules already in place to verify if these are already sufficient. If they are, then simply reference to these whilst ensuring that the students are following the necessary precautions would be appropriate. For more information see, Laboratory Rules, Induction, Competence and Supervision.

Risks to the environment should equally be considered and the impact on any existing Environment Agency permits (as appropriate) - Slide 4.

Items that come under the jurisdiction of the Home Office (Slide 5) will require specific controls to be in place such as the keeping of items within a secure environment and the keeping of records of authorised users, stock control and an annual return via the Health and Safety Department to the Home Office.

Enforcing agencies and educational accreditation bodies have their own methods for setting standards and for enforcement (Slide 6).

It is important that as Researcher Supervisors you understand what may be applicable to you and to the students that you supervise and that you manage the risks effectively for all normal and abnormal (emergency) situations relating to the research under your control. The risk assessment must cover what to do in an emergency such as knowing what to do if there is a failure, spill, alarm sound or fire, etc. Risk management plays a vital role in the workplace so it is important that students establish sound practices whilst at the University. It should not just be considered as a method for preventing incidents. Good risk management should also consider financial and business risks covering business continuity and emergency planning. Making sure those that could be affected by the research such as those working in the vicinity or infrequent visitors such as cleaners, contractors or emergency personnel are also informed of the risks (and ensuring that the risks are adequately controlled) should not only keep people safe, but should help the University meet its own expectations (Slide 7). Similarly eliminating poor safety behaviour is vital if the University is to ensure a positive health and safety culture. Staff at any level should be prepared to tackle this to raise standards.

Risk assessments may need to also consider research off campus or out in the field. Please follow this link if you are supervising students engaged in this type of research.

To progress to the next part of the training, please move on to the Lab Rules, Induction, Competence and Supervision section.