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Risk assessments

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Risk assessments

Increasingly Licensed Organisations and DofE Leaders are being asked to undertake risk assessments for the work that they do with young people. At first this may appear to be a daunting prospect, but in reality risk assessment is a simple straight-forward process. It is important that the person responsible for the activity undertakes the risk assessment with those involved, as it is the process of thinking through what might happen and the consequences should anything go wrong, then making plans to deal with the situation which increases safety.



The Health & Safety Executive describe a risk assessment as a careful examination of what could cause harm to people taking part in an activity. The assessment helps you to decide whether you have taken sufficient precautions or should do more to prevent harm. They recommend a simple five step approach which is outlined in their free leaflet ‘5 Steps to Risk Assessment’. This can be summarised as:


Five steps to risk assessment

Step 1 – Look for hazards

‘Hazard’ means anything that can cause harm (e.g. severe weather, use of cooking stoves, road accidents, falling, drowning etc.). Look at all your activities, including non-routine tasks. Look at what actually happens rather than what should happen.


Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed and how

For example, there are young people. voluntary Leaders, members of the public. Think about how people may be at risk – does their role involve manual handling, visiting people in their homes, working with the public?


Step 3 – For each hazard evaluate the chance, big or small, of harm actually being done and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more should be done.

For example, for each hazard consider what would be the worst result? Would it be a broken finger or someone being killed? How likely is it to happen?

If you consider more needs to be done to control the risk, ask yourself if you can avoid the hazard by doing the activity in a different way. If not, you need to think about controlling the hazard more effectively. For example:

  • Choose the most important thing to tackle first.
  • Work with the participants and other Leaders to solve problems and agree precautions.
  • Don’t forget that new training and information could be needed.

 Remember, even after all precautions have been taken, some risk will often remain. The important things you need to decide are whether the hazard is significant, and whether you have controlled it by satisfactory precautions so that the risk is as small as possible. You need to check this when you assess the risks.


Step 4 – Record the significant findings of your risk assessment e.g. the main risks and the measures you have taken to deal with them.

A ‘significant’ hazard has the potential to cause serious harm (the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations are only concerned with young people not being exposed to avoidable risks of death and disabling injury). You can keep paper or electronic records; it’s up to you, but make sure the records are easily accessible. Remember that you only need to record your significant findings. These would include the hazards, existing control measures (precautions, rules, system, training etc.) and the people who may be affected.


Step 5 – Review your assessment from time to time and revise if necessary.

Remember that things change; you might visit a new area or undertake a different activity. Rules get broken and people don’t always do as they’ve been told. The only way to find out about changes like these is by checking. Don’t wait until things have gone wrong. Check that the hazards are the same and that the precautions are adequate.

You can do the risk assessment yourself. If you work for a larger organisation, you could ask a safety officer, safety representative or responsible person to help you. If you are not confident, your local environmental health officer or local HSE inspector can advise you. But remember – the person in charge of the activity is responsible for seeing that the risk assessment is done and is adequate.

The HSE advise that risk assessments should not be over complicated. In most activities the potential problems or hazards are few and can be dealt with by simple measures. Checking them is common sense, but necessary.


Risk Assessment in the DofE

In the DofE, it should not be assumed that risks are only found in the Expedition section. One key issue which all Licensed Organisations should explore using this model is Child Protection. By carefully considering who might be involved with DofE participants and the extent of that involvement, it is possible to develop sensible policies and practices to minimise the risk of a young person being harmed.

Most DofE activities are undertaken through bodies such as sports clubs or service organisations and generic risk assessments covering these will often have been undertaken by the organisation or the Licensed Organisation and control measures put in place in the form of operating procedures etc. To supplement this, Leaders may be asked to undertake site or activity specific risk assessments.

In the Expedition section, the main generic hazards have been identified and the conditions and requirements, together with the information and advice developed over 50 years and published in the DofE's Expedition Guide (if followed), should ensure that the risks to young people are very small.

Leaders may need to identify any specific hazards associated with the particular venture they are planning. For ventures in wild country areas, the advice of the Expedition Network and the Assessor will help identify specific hazards associated with the chosen route. 

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