Should We Keep Taking Risks? A guide to risk assessment
Everyone can do a risk assessment. Most of us do one several times a day without even realising it.
Do you drive? Maybe you have kids? When you get out of the car, how often do you check for traffic before opening the door? With the kids, perhaps you’ve put the child lock on the back door? If you’re parking up in a dark car park late at night, you probably look around for strangers lurking nearby first. All are risk assessments, even if you don’t have to write them down.
Risk assessing for Theatre is really no different, apart from the need to keep a record to prove that you have taken adequate precautions for any hazards that you have identified.
For a good risk assessment, you first identify each potential hazard, the likelihood of it occurring and the seriousness of injury if it does. Then you make a judgement on what control measures you could put in place to lessen the likelihood of occurrence and/or reduce the impact.
Take an everyday activity like catching a train. You arrive at the station just as the train is approaching the platform. If you do not run, you may miss the train.
What are the hazards here?
You may trip and fall. You might collide with another passenger. Perhaps you’ll get trapped in the closing doors. Or you might drop your mobile phone or spill the expensive coffee you just queued for, which is why you’re running late in the first place.
How likely are any of the above?
It’s been raining and the stairs are slippery. Maybe you’re wearing heels. Maybe you’re in your running shoes. It’s rush hour and the station is crowded. Your phone is in your hand because you were just instagramming a shot of your coffee, while tweeting about how you’re running late.
While, as an experienced commuter, you may make it onto the train unscathed, you also recognise that there is still a moderate possibility that you could end up flat on your back, with a twisted ankle, a shattered phone, wearing your skinny latte.
You have now performed your own risk assessment and can make your own decision whether to wait for the next train or not. Making the assessment will not tell you whether you can or can’t get to the train, it just informs you what the risks are in trying.
Theatre risk assessments need not be that different, it’s just that sometimes, you may feel out of your comfort zone making them. Don’t be fooled into thinking that risk assessment stops you being able to do something though – it just asks that you consider how to do it as safely as possible.
The high wire walker has still risk assessed their act. The danger is still a potential fatality should they fall. But they have taken steps to lessen the likelihood; whether through the way the equipment is installed and maintained or the amount of training and rehearsal that has gone into preparing for the routine.
You can still light candles on stage. You just have to be mindful of how you are doing it, what else could potentially catch fire as a result, and how you put the flame out again safely.
The one I get asked about time and time again is handrails on raised platforms. They obscure the view, ruin the design, and sometimes aren’t structurally safe anyhow so could arguable create more of a hazard by giving a performer a false sense of security. Do you have to have them?
It depends on the activity and the risk assessment you have carried out. Regulations now class ‘any area where there is a risk of a fall’ as Working at Height, but that doesn’t mean you have to put a handrail on every edge of any raised platform.
A theatre won’t have handrails installed on the downstage edge of their stage because it would kill the view for the entire audience, so would other levels further upstage need a handrail fitted on their downstage edge? If it’s a narrow platform with a lot of performers and a lively dance routine, then perhaps it would. But if one performer walks slowly across in good lighting conditions, then the risk is significantly lower.
Good step access with a handrail may be the preferred access route to a raised platform, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a design decision to have a vertical ladder instead, as long as you can prove you have taken steps to make it safe for your performer(s) to use.
For most activities, it’s a case of identifying the hazards and ensuring you have workable control measures in place to make whatever you are doing as safe as possible, without making the activity itself ineffective or impossible to carry out.
Here’s one I prepared for this blog:
Hazard: Someone being injured for taking our advice too literally and then suing Ask Jono for damages.
Likelihood: May occur.
Severity: Loss of readers through to possible fatality.
Control Measure: Put risk assessment at end of blog to advise readers to be responsible for their own assessment.
Conclusion: Stupidity may still occur.