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Changing nature of risk

25 July 2018

Experts from fire, health and safety and facilities management took part in a roundtable debate on the changing nature of risks. Ian Thompson, who chaired the event, highlights some of the key themes that emerged.

THE VARIETY and scale of modern day risks that health and safety managers need to cater for are evolving and their emergency plans and procedures need to adapt. The point of this event was to secure the views of those from industry, trade bodies, specifiers and suppliers to find out what they are observing as frontline professionals.

New risks, such as an ageing workforce, changes to the built environment, flexible and mobile working and even terrorism, are coming to the fore and prompting greater scrutiny in the industry over what impact they will have on planning by health and safety professionals.

Guests were invited to consider how the modern workplace is changing, where and how the threat posed by terrorism is impacting on policy and behaviours, what impact the design and accessibility of the built environment is having on emergency procedures and training, as well as how to meet the needs of workforces that now feature ageing and more mobility-impaired people among their numbers.

When safe evacuation fails, lives can be lost, or people can be seriously injured. It is not the responsibility of the emergency services to evacuate people, so the group felt clear leadership and ownership of emergency planning and evacuation within an organisation is essential, as is ‘top down’ communication.

They emphasised that, in their experience, strong leadership and communication skills had a vital role to play in challenging and changing behaviours in-line with emerging risk scenarios, particularly when it came to enabling collaborative decision making, preparing inclusive evacuation plans and bringing clarity to roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.  

Soft skills are hard

One weakness highlighted was that while people involved in risk assessments and emergency planning had strong technical skills, they sometimes lacked the softer, more persuasive skills that ensure changes to practice are taken seriously at all levels of an organisation and widely adopted.

The days of a ‘tick box’ response to risk are over. As buildings, their occupiers, technology and threats evolve, then so should planned responses adapt and be rigorously tested. The consensus from the group was that considered risk assessment and planning is driven as much by commercial benefits as it is by legislation and the group cited supply chain rigour, business reputation and the positive impact that sound health and safety practice has on business productivity and product quality as reasons why, increasingly, businesses and organisations are taking their responsibilities seriously.

There is evidence that investing in health and safety can increase staff morale, loyalty and contribute to an organisation’s reputation. Illustrating the ‘psychological contract’ between the employer and worker, research shows that approximately 61% of workers said they would work harder for an employer who invested in their health.¹

The group identified the following top tips to help businesses adapt to changing scenarios:

  • Put people at the heart of planning and make sure your plan is not a ‘one-size fits all’ solution but caters for the different needs of individuals, especially those who are mobility-impaired, elderly or visually-impaired;
  • Embed and communicate best practice. Health and safety teams must have strong persuasive skills and not just be ‘box tickers’. They must be willing to influence the culture of an organisation and emphasise the benefits that effective planning can have on business reputation both internally and externally; 
  • Use visual cues to enhance communication and identify issues. Photos offer a more practical way of identifying and addressing risk and, with Smartphone technology, it is easy to share with people what ‘good’ looks like and ask them to report anything they feel could impede a safe evacuation such as blocked fire exits, or fire doors wedged open;
  • Ensure sites are ‘tour-ready’ i.e. they have everything in place that demonstrates to building users that the landlord, business owner and/or manager, takes their safety and security seriously.  This is reassuring and increases confidence in plans ensuring they are implemented smoothly and effectively;
  • Multi-site businesses should identify where best practice is happening and share this across all locations. Rewarding good practice can help to instil a positive culture towards health and safety; and
  • Procurement departments can insist on best practice from their suppliers, reinforcing the business benefits of having robust systems in place

Emerging risks

In terms of emerging risks, the group focused on three areas in particular; terrorism, technology and inclusivity. They felt that while any business in easy to access public areas was potentially vulnerable to terrorism, certain sectors were putting particularly emphasis on both preventing and preparing for incidents, namely transport, hotels and the leisure sector.²

Leisure and tourism establishments must balance the need to be open and welcoming and deliver a positive customer experience with the rigour needed to ensure safety for all. In these cases, how these organisations can adapt to these threats comes down to individual building risk assessments. For example, some transport hubs and hotels are putting up barriers to prevent vehicles from being able to drive into buildings while others have increased bag searches, especially for visitors to events and exhibitions

The Kerslake Report³, which is an independent review into the preparedness for and, emergency response to, the Manchester Arena attack on 22nd May 2017, highlights the importance of having ‘access to basic frameless canvas stretchers to enable rapid movement and evacuation of casualties during terrorist attacks or other high-threat or dynamic-hazard incidents’ as described under the Recommendations for National Emergency Responses Arrangements under Health Services Section K.

A highly effective and fast approach to help injured or mobility-impaired individuals out of a building in such an emergency can be provided by Evac+Chair’s range of ResQProducts that comes with expert advice on the legalities surrounding evacuation planning and deployment.

According to the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, in a fire scenario, it may be appropriate to use all available exits; in a terrorism scenario, consideration should be given to directing people via alternative routes to avoid exiting into a potentially hostile situation.

When it comes to technology, the group recognised the valuable role it can play in helping to monitor and manage the movement of people in all sorts of buildings. It also highlighted its limitations especially when it comes to maintaining an accurate head count, if people have found ways of circumventing the systems. Businesses should test their systems are working and they can account for everyone that uses their building thus assisting with the emergency services when called to an incident.

Other resources

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a useful checklist and online systems to enable your business to keep up to date with the latest guidance. The group noted that changes to retirement ages, the Equality Act 2010, as well as improved building design and accessibility are ensuring that work and living spaces are more inclusive. This means more people who are mobility-impaired have greater opportunities to access and move around buildings. This is increasing the scope and requirement for people-centred emergency and evacuation planning.  

Ensuring the needs of all residents, staff and visitors including the mobility-impaired must be identified. A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan, known as a ‘PEEP’, must be devised by the relevant person responsible to comply with the Fire Safety Order. This ensures consideration of the key arrangements for evacuating individuals with disabilities. The PEEP should consider people who are mobility-impaired, visually-impaired or hearing-impaired.

As the high-profile investigation and inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted, the evacuation of all buildings is coming under deeper scrutiny. The reality is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and confidence in instructions to ‘stay put’ for example, must be balanced with the potential likelihood of a simultaneous vs a phased evacuation. Full risk assessment must include scenario planning so that alternatives are available.

Buildings and, the ways that they are used, change over time.  This should prompt regular re-assessment of risk to ensure robust emergency and evacuation planning is fit for purpose, well-documented as well as communicated and supported by the relevant training and equipment.  This approach will ensure any plan meets the needs of the people who use the buildings and have responsibility for ensuring the safety of occupants.

Ian Thompson is sales and marketing director at Evac+Chair International. 

For more information and to download a copy of the White Paper The Changing Nature of Risk, visit www.evac-chair.co.uk 


¹ www.britsafe.org/media/1569/the-business-benefits-health-and-safety-literature-+review.pdf

² www.cityam.com/266033/london-bridge-attack-tourism-chiefs-hold-emergency-summit

³ www.kerslakearenareview.co.uk/media/1022/kerslake_arena_review_printed_final.pdf