Risk assessment, risk management & risk benefit… what do they all mean and what are my responsibilities?
Part of our role as educators is to ensure the health safety and wellbeing of the children in our service and simultaneously implement an educational and developmentally appropriate program. In order to achieve this, we need to balance risk management and risk benefit. This is best measured through risk assessments where we look at the likelihood and consequence of risk in an experience & environment.
What is Risk?
The National Law and Regulations do not define ‘risk’. A common tool used to analyse the level of risk is a risk matrix (see below). This tool helps identify the level of risk by looking at how likely it is a negative event may occur, and the severity of the consequence should it occur.
So basically, when we risk assess we determine:
- The likelihood of harm (X-axis)
- The severity of that harm (Y-axis)
We can then determine (using the table above) whether the risk is considered:
- very low
It is only once we have assessed the above that we can make an informed decision as to what the benefits, or outcomes of the experience would be and whether the risk is acceptable.
Regulation 100, 101 & 102 outline the requirements in order for children to participate in excursions. Services must identify and assess the risks that the excursion may pose and then determine how they will minimise and manage the identified risks.
- Identify the risk or potential risk
- Assess the risk of or potential risk
- Manage the risk
To risk assess, we are identifying any potential hazards or incidences that could go wrong in a planned activity or event.
We are taking an excursion to the park. On part of the walk, we need to cross a road with no traffic lights. What could be a potential risk involved?
- Potential risk:
A child walks onto the road when a car is driving past, putting the child at risk of being hit by a car.
2. Assess the risk:
So, we have identified a risk, now we need to assess the risk of harm or potential harm using the risk matrix.
I believe given the age group of the children (5-7year olds) and the busy road we are crossing:
- The likelihood is possible
- And the consequence is significant – major
Using the matrix, this assesses the risk as being high
3. Now we need to implement control measures to manage the risk
- Have an educator hold the group on the sidewalk whilst another checks the road (administrative control measure)
- One educator could stand in the middle of the road and help direct the other staff and children
- Have educators spread out in the group and take children across the road in small groups
- Change the route to a more appropriate and safer one (elimination strategy / removes hazard)
4. Once you have implemented control measures you need to reassess the risk against the matrix.
- Has the risk been mitigated?
- Has it been effectively managed and reduced?
- Is it still too high and must the activity be changed or not implemented?
5. Continued review is the last step.
As we all know, our environment and the sector continue to change and evolve. Due to this we need to continue reflecting and assessing to ensure the risk remains low. For example, if road works commenced on the same road you usually cross at, a new risk assessment should be carried out as the risk has changed and it is no longer considered low.
When might one complete a risk assessment?
(This is not an extensive list but contains examples. Each service has a different context and will require different risk assessments.)
- Injury Management
- Learning environments & play spaces
- Supervision plans
- Physical environments shared with other services (e.g., multi-purpose areas shared with the school)
- Emergency Management (e.g evacuation procedures, lockdown procedures)
- Transportation of children
- Risky play experiences
Who should complete risk assessments?
Risk assessments aren’t required to be completed by any one person. In fact, writing risk assessments collaboratively is a more likely way to ensure the document is in depth and all educators understand the procedures in place.
If one person is responsible for writing risk assessments, it is crucial they are then communicated clearly to everyone it affects. This includes educators, children, visitors, volunteers etc.
A great way of ensuring a risk assessment is communicated well is to include a communication plan.
This may outline how the plan is communicated to educators. Some examples might be:
- Expectation to read the plan on the day and sign
- The plan is emailed out prior to an excursion or experience for them to read
- Discussions at staff meetings
How the plan will be communicated with children. Some examples might be:
- Group discussions prior to experiences
- Group discussions prior to excursions
- Educators to brief children individually on the plan
“risks can be managed through conducting risk assessments, and weighing the obligation to protect children from foreseeable risk of harm against the benefit of providing children with a stimulating play environment”
-Guide to the NQF, P.158
In the next blog post on RISK, we will look at risk benefit & risky play and how we can communicate these benefits and learning opportunities to our schools, approved providers, families & other stakeholders.