What is a Dynamic Risk Assessment? A Guide with Examples

What is a Dynamic Risk Assessment? A Guide with Examples

Whether it’s fire and rescue or engineers working offshore, today’s work environments are constantly changing, along with the roles of each employee. With the ever-changing landscape, traditional and static risk assessments may not be effective enough to keep employees safe as a single approach. In such circumstances, dynamic risk assessments offer a solution that complements existing methods. Here, we delve into dynamic risk assessments and explore the benefits and how these can be implemented into the workplace.

What is a dynamic risk assessment?

Picture a safety net that constantly evolves and adjusts as people work: this is essentially at the core of dynamic risk assessments. Sometimes referred to as dynamic operational risk assessments, dynamic risk assessments are a safety framework that continuously identifies, assesses and controls hazards in the workplace. These differ from traditional risk assessments as they are conducted in real-time, allowing organizations to monitor and review potential risks that may be present in the workplace as they happen. While this approach shouldn’t replace risk assessments that are implemented before activities take place, it can empower both organizations and employees to make informed decisions in real-time, ensuring optimal safety and well-being throughout shifts.

Why are dynamic risk assessments important?

Risk assessments are essential for every organization; however, the traditional risk assessment often provides a static picture of workplace safety. Consider an engineer climbing a wind turbine or an offshore oil and gas maintenance crew faced with unforeseen changes to weather conditions or equipment malfunctioning: this can introduce a new set of challenges and hazards. Dynamic risk assessments address these limitations by fostering a continuous cycle of hazard identification, risk evaluation and control. This real-time approach to ensuring safety measures adapt to the ever-evolving nature of the modern work environment make dynamic risk assessments vital.

Dynamic risk assessment equips workers with the tools to constantly evaluate their surroundings and identify potential risks as they arise; however, it goes beyond simply identifying these. It creates a culture of safety by encouraging open communication and active risk mitigation. Imagine a construction worker on-site who notices loose scaffolding during a high-rise building project. A dynamic approach allows for immediate communication with the foreman and the implementation of the necessary precautions, such as stopping work or stabilizing the scaffolding. By equipping both workers and organizations with the right tools to make informed decisions instantly, dynamic risk assessment empowers everyone to play a critical role in safeguarding the well-being of their colleagues and themselves.

What is the difference between a static and dynamic risk assessment?

While traditional and static risk assessments often form the cornerstone of workplace safety, at times they can paint an incomplete picture. Traditional/static risk assessments are usually conducted as an initial step, when organizations introduce new processes or equipment, to determine risks and create safety measures before implementation. However, these don’t always take into account unforeseen circumstances and risks. This is where dynamic risk assessment provides a lot of benefit.

Dynamic risk assessments are constantly evolving and adapting as workers navigate the workday or shift, making assessments and enforcing solutions as risks arise. It represents a paradigm shift in safety management, fostering a continuous cycle of hazard identification, evaluation and control. Unlike static assessments, dynamic risk assessments are conducted live, empowering workers to assess their surroundings and proactively address emerging risks. Studies highlight that organizations implementing dynamic risk assessments can experience a significant reduction in workplace incidents. These demonstrate the effectiveness of dynamic risk assessments in adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the workplace.

Which industries use dynamic risk assessments?

Dynamic risk assessments are used across a wide range of industries, from lone working through those working with hazardous substances to high-risk situations such as utilities and military and defense. While these may be some of the more common sectors, industries where the nature of work constantly changes and evolves should conduct dynamic risk assessments. Here are some more examples.

Industrial environments

From recycling plants and oil refineries to power generation and mining operations, the industrial sector can be exposed to many hazards. In the UK, a Workplace Injury Report determined agriculture, forestry and fishing, construction, and transportation having the highest number of fatal injuries, with the most common causes being defective machinery or equipment and being struck by moving vehicles, objects and/or falling materials.

Dynamic risk assessments empower employees to identify and address hazards in real-time, mitigating risks associated with complex machinery, hazardous materials and environmental conditions that are constantly changing. This can help reduce the numbers and injuries across industrial sectors.

Lone workers

Security guards, drivers in transport and logistics, and field service technicians are some of the occupations where people work alone, facing unpredictable situations. Statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicate that as many as 150 lone workers are either physically or verbally attacked every day. While some incidents cannot be prevented, dynamic risk assessments can equip lone workers to assess and identify risks in real-time, take the right measures and communicate effectively when needed.

High-risk environments

Imagine a confined space that requires maintenance, like a vat in a chemical plant. Dynamic risk assessments enable workers to detect and address unexpected hazards such as sudden chemical spills or fluctuating pressure levels. This approach ensures workers and organizations can adapt safety protocols and prevent potentially life-threatening situations.

Data published by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters found over 825 hazardous chemical incidents – including fires, explosions and harmful chemical releases – have occurred since the beginning of 2021, and over 270 incidents have occurred in 2023 alone, in the US. Statistics like this highlight the need for dynamic risk assessment to prevent catastrophic consequences that affect not only workers but the public too.

Fire and rescue/first responders

According to a study by the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 65,650 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2022, an increase of 8 per cent from the 60,750 injuries reported in 2021. Firefighters were more likely to be injured at fireground operations than during any other duties.

Firefighters, paramedics and police officers are constantly navigating through different call-outs and emergency situations. They’re often exposing themselves to situations they may not have encountered. Dynamic risk assessments can help mitigate emerging threats, keeping those safe who help and keep others safe while risking their lives.

Healthcare

The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds healthcare workers experience more incidences of injury and illness than workers in any other industry, including manufacturing and construction. 

This highlights how crucial dynamic approaches are in healthcare settings. Similar to fire and rescue and first responders, healthcare professionals deal with patients where conditions can change rapidly. At times, they may be working alone, exposing themselves to greater risks. Dynamic risk assessments allow these professionals to pinpoint issues early in the process and take preventative measures to keep both themselves and the patient safe.

These examples are not exhaustive. It’s important to understand that any industry where the workplace changes, and can be unpredictable, can benefit greatly from dynamic risk assessment. Fostering a culture based on real-time risk assessment and mitigation harnesses the tools organizations can implement to create a safer workplace.

What factors influence risk?

Effective risk management requires a strong understanding of the shifting landscape of hazards in the workplace. Traditional risk assessments provide a valuable foundation; however, they often capture potential risks only at a specific point in time. Implementing a holistic approach, and including dynamic risk assessments, overcomes the limitations by acknowledging the dynamic nature of the workplace and the different factors that influence risk levels. 

Key factors that can significantly impact workplace risks are highlighted below.

Workplace environment and conditions

The physical environment and conditions play a vital role. Sites with changing weather conditions, factory floors with complex machinery and areas with hazardous substances are some of the environmental factors that can present unique hazards. This, combined with an individual’s physiological responses, can heighten the risks. Dynamic risk assessment can help take these into consideration on the job, enabling employees to discover and address environmental hazards while highlighting these issues to adapt safety processes as needed.

Work practices

The way in which workplace tasks are performed can have a significant impact on the level of risks presented. Factors like fatigue, workload and adherence to safety protocols all influence the likelihood of incidents. Encouraging open communication about workplace practices through dynamic risk assessments allows for immediate adjustments to mitigate risks arising from improper procedures or employee fatigue.

Equipment and materials

This encompasses the risks associated with specific tools, materials and equipment required to perform particular tasks. The use of inadequate or malfunctioning equipment, improper handling and disposal of hazardous materials, or the introduction of new equipment can present unforeseen hazards. Dynamic risk assessments provide the confidence workers require to identify any issues and encourage them to stay vigilant and proactively communicate any concerns. This ensures workers preempt incidents before they happen.

Organizational factors

The commitment and dedication to workplace safety from leadership and management, along with the effectiveness of training programmes, influences the overall safety culture, in turn affecting the level of risk. Attitudes from leadership can trickle down into positive or negative engagement by employees and affect compliance. To ensure this is aligned with the organization, when dynamic risk assessments are implemented within a robust safety culture, they allow open two-way communication and stimulate active participation in risk identification and mitigation from employees.

By acknowledging these multifaceted factors, organizations can build dynamic risk assessments that complement existing safety strategies which can evolve. The key to this approach is to empower both workers and organizations to use real-time information to make informed decisions.


How to conduct a dynamic risk assessment

The key to dynamic risk assessment is that it is an ongoing process – it’s not a one-time activity. It is imperative to integrate dynamic risk assessment into daily routines and shifts. Through this, workers become engaged and active participants in workplace safety, fostering a culture of risk awareness and prevention. Here’s how to integrate and conduct dynamic risk assessments.

Preparation

  1. Training: Equip workers with the knowledge and skills required to conduct dynamic risk assessments effectively. While organizations should not be limited to the following when training, they should ensure they cover hazard identification, risk assessment techniques and communication protocols.
  1. Tools and resources: Workers should be provided with easy-to-use tools to document and communicate risks. This could encompass checklists, applications on devices or simple notepads. Regardless of the tool, it’s important to ensure it can easily be accessed by each employee.

The dynamic process

  1. Identify hazards: Situational awareness is paramount. Throughout the workday or shift, workers should be vigilant and actively scan their surroundings for potential hazards. Employees need to be able to identify when something has changed, whether it be an object or their environment. This can include hazards in the area such as slippery floors, inadequate equipment or insufficient staffing numbers on specific tasks.
  1. Assess the risk: Once a hazard is identified, workers should evaluate the likelihood of an incident occurring and the potential severity of the consequences that could follow. Factors to consider could be the type or nature of the hazard, the working environment or even the workers’ experience level if applicable. To determine how substantial the risk is, workers can ask themselves, ‘Does it require immediate attention? Who is at risk of harm?’
  1. Decide on the controls: Once the risk has been determined and analyzed, workers should establish whether work can continue. If the risk is deemed unacceptable, the appropriate control measures required to mitigate the risk must be identified. This could involve eliminating the hazard, implementing engineering controls, using personal protective equipment (PPE), providing smart safety solutions that monitor physiological responses or the environment, or modifying work procedures.
  1. Communicate and document: Efficient and effective communication is imperative. Workers should report hazards that have been identified, and the chosen controls, to supervisors or relevant personnel. Documentation helps track risks and ensures there are records for reference that may be required at a later date.
  1. Monitor and review: As the name suggests, this is a dynamic process so that workers can continuously monitor workplace situations and re-evaluate any risks presented as and when needed. It’s important that this is ongoing as circumstances are likely to change through the workday or different shifts.

Additional tips

  1. Encourage a culture where employees can speak up: Workers should feel comfortable reporting hazards as they arise without fear of reprisal or not being taken seriously.
  1. Integrate with existing processes: Dynamic risk assessments can be seamlessly integrated with existing safety protocols such as safety briefings and induction to avoid any disruption.
  1. Review regularly and improve: As the workplace evolves, review dynamic risk assessments to identify areas for improvement and ensure their continued effectiveness.

Tools and techniques for dynamic risk assessment, with real-world example

Various tools and techniques can be implemented in conducting dynamic risk assessments. These can range from mnemonics that help workers recall steps to carry out the dynamic risk assessment, through scenario-based training and digital checklists and forms, to wearable technology.

Scenario-based training

Workers can be placed in work scenarios where they encounter various hazards and practice identifying, assessing and controlling risks. With the growing accessibility of virtual reality (VR), simulations can be used to create a more realistic experience. Employees can also be asked to analyze real-world incidents and discuss how dynamic risk assessments could have been prevented, as part of this training.

Digital documentation

Organizations can provide prepopulated checklists and forms that are digitized and tailored to specific tasks or environments. These should be easily accessible. Checklists can prompt workers to identify potential hazards associated with specific tasks or locations while rating the severity of each hazard using predefined scales.

Checklists like these can suggest appropriate control measures for each hazard. Workers can also use easy-to-complete forms to document any additional hazards identified during the task and the chosen control measures.

Mnemonics

According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, a mnemonic is a word, sentence or poem that helps people remember something. For instance, the LITE mnemonic is used in manual handling to help act as a reminder for the steps involved in dynamic risk assessments to maneuver large and heavy objects safely: 

L – Load, determines the size, shape, surface type and weight of the item being moved. 

I – Individual completing the task takes into consideration whether or not assistance is needed. 

T – Task required, which could be pushing, lifting or pulling. 

E – Environment, where the object is being transported to and from and whether the work area is free from obstructions.

Wearable technology

Solutions that are integrated with wearable sensor technology, such as Bodytrak®, can help workers identify potential hazards (e.g. inadequate PPE) or environmental changes (e.g. increasing temperatures). Insights captured through wearable solutions can prompt questions about potential hazards when workers are alerted and help assess the severity if they have been provided with adequate training.

Building on some of these tools and techniques for dynamic risk assessment, here we dive into a real-world example that showcases how it can work across different industries.


Industrial example: Oil and Gas Engineer

Consider a technician or engineer who works alone during routine maintenance call-outs. In their latest task, they are required to conduct a routine pressure gauge calibration on a remote wellhead platform. As this is a lone worker, dynamic risk assessment becomes imperative to maintain safety and well-being. The engineer should always be prepared and up to date with known hazards, such as working at height, using pressurized equipment and potential isolation valve leakage, while being familiar with pressure gauge calibration safety analysis. In addition to this, before the worker sets off, they must ensure their toolkit contains all the necessary equipment for the task and that any communication devices and personal monitoring solutions, whether physiological or environmental, are charged and working. 

On-site – Initial assessment:

  • Environmental scan: As the engineer reaches the platform, they conduct a thorough visual scan. They check for weather conditions (wind, rain, etc.) and any slippery surfaces due to recent rain, and observe if there are any warning signs or unusual activity around the wellhead.

Starting the task:

  • Hazard identification: While setting up their equipment, the engineer identifies a potential trip hazard from loose cables near the base of the platform.
  • Risk assessment: They consider the likelihood (medium) of tripping and the severity (serious injury) if they were to fall.
  • Control measures: The engineer immediately gathers the loose cables and secures them neatly to avoid tripping. They document this hazard and control measure in their digital tool.

During the task:

  • Unexpected event: As the engineer starts the calibration process, they notice a slight pressure fluctuation on the gauge, exceeding the expected range.
  • Risk assessment: They recognise this as a potential sign of a malfunction or leak. The likelihood (unknown) and severity (high) of a leak require immediate action.
  • Control measures and communication: Following the established protocol, the engineer stops work and secures the isolation valve on the pressure line. They use their communication device to report the unexpected pressure reading and their actions to the control room, requesting further guidance.
  • Documentation: The engineer updates their dynamic risk assessment tool, recording the new hazard (pressure fluctuation), control implementation (stopping work and isolating the valve) and ongoing communication with the control room.

Completing the task:

  • Final checks: After receiving clearance from the control room and confirming the pressure is stable, the engineer carefully completes the calibration process.
  • Final assessment: Before leaving the platform, the engineer conducts a final scan of the work area, ensuring everything is in order and their tools are correctly stored.

Back at base:

  • Debriefing: Upon returning to base, the engineer participates in a debriefing session with the supervisor. They discuss the encountered pressure fluctuation, the actions taken and any learnings from the experience. This information is documented for future reference and potential adjustments to overall safety protocols.

This example demonstrates how the engineer, working alone, proactively identified and addressed hazards throughout their workday using a dynamic risk assessment approach. By constantly scanning their environment, assessing risks and taking appropriate control measures, they ensured their own safety while completing the assigned task.


Benefits and challenges

It is evident that dynamic risk assessment can be invaluable in enhancing workplace safety, particularly in environments where conditions are always changing. However, it’s important to recognise that it can also present some challenges that need to be addressed for successful implementation. Here’s a breakdown of the key benefits along with the challenges so that organizations can be prepared.

Benefits of dynamic risk assessments

  • Live risk management: Unlike traditional and static assessments conducted before activities, dynamic risk assessments are part of a continuous process that is implemented throughout the complete workday or shift. This allows significant improvements, adaptability and responsiveness as risks are identified as they arise.
  • Empowered workforce: Workers are equipped with the knowledge and tools to actively participate in safety. By encouraging them to scan their surroundings and assess risks, dynamic risk assessments foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for safety across the entire organization.
  • Improved communication: Effective dynamic risk assessments necessitate clear communication between workers and supervisors. Identified hazards, chosen controls and any changes in risk levels require immediate reporting, promoting open communication and collaboration.
  • Enhanced safety culture: The ongoing nature of dynamic risk assessment reinforces a culture of safety awareness. By constantly thinking about potential risks, employees become more vigilant and proactive in preventing incidents.
  • Reduced incidents: Organizations implementing dynamic risk assessments as part of their existing safety protocols are likely to experience a significant decrease in workplace accidents. This translates to a safer work environment, lower costs associated with injuries and improved employee morale.

Challenges of dynamic risk assessments

  • Time and resources: Successful dynamic risk assessments require employees to be trained in hazard identification, risk assessment techniques and communication protocols. While being equipped with the right knowledge and tools is extremely powerful, this requires organizations to invest time and resources to make it happen.
  • Integration with existing processes: Implementing dynamic risk assessments seamlessly requires integrating them with existing safety protocols such as safety briefings and inspections. Careful and diligent planning is vital to avoid disruption and ensure efficient workflows.
  • Employee buy-in: As with most processes in any organization, employee engagement is required for dynamic risk assessment to be effective. Workers need to understand its importance and feel comfortable reporting hazards and the impact these risks can have. Nurturing a culture of open communication and addressing concerns promptly are essential for employee buy-in.
  • Burden of documentation: The ongoing nature of dynamic risk assessment can generate a significant amount of information on hazards that have been identified, control measures and risk evaluations. The ability to provide digital tools and clear documentation procedures are necessary to avoid overwhelming employees, which will enhance worker buy-in.
  • Shared responsibilities: Dynamic risk assessments shift some responsibility for safety from supervisors to individual workers. Organizations need to ensure supervisors and managers are ready to support this shift and shared responsibility by providing the right guidance when needed.

Conclusion

Dynamic risk assessment offers a powerful and adaptable approach to workplace safety, particularly in environments where conditions are constantly changing. By empowering workers to identify and address emerging hazards in real-time, dynamic risk assessments can significantly improve risk management and safety outcomes. 

However, successful implementation requires careful consideration. Challenges in terms of training, integration and cultural shifts can exist. Acknowledging and understanding the challenges can help an organization overcome them and benefit from improved risk awareness, shared knowledge and a safer workplace making it a worthwhile investment.

Implementing dynamic risk assessments effectively gives organizations the opportunity to create a proactive safety culture that continuously adapts to changing work conditions.

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