Risk assessment

Authorised Professional Practice

This page is from APP, the official source of professional practice for policing.

First published
Written by College of Policing
Civil contingencies
6 mins read

Understanding risk is central to emergency response. The willingness to make decisions in conditions of uncertainty is the first of ten principles of risk management.

These principles and the national decision model (NDM) encourage a positive approach to risk by supporting decision-makers and building their confidence in taking risks.

The Code of Ethics defines standards of behaviour for everyone who works in policing and outlines the principles that should guide decision-making. Officers and staff should use these ethical principles and feel supported in ‘doing the right thing’ when facing decisions involving risk.

Health and safety duties

Emergency responders must ensure that their plans, assessments and major incident response facilitate the quick identification and management of hazards in all stages from initial report to recovery.

In the event of major incidents, a wide range of physical, psychological and safety hazards may be faced by the public and emergency responders. All such hazards need to be managed to protect staff and the public from harm.

Health and safety duties range from developing generic risk assessments for pre-planned operations to dynamic risk assessments in emergency situations. The local resilience forum (LRF) is responsible for a number of ongoing risk assessments.

It is important to note that while working on joint risk assessment and a shared situational awareness, the responsibility for the health and safety of staff remains with each individual emergency response agency. This is coordinated through either the strategic commander or strategic coordination centre. There should be a two-way flow of information, support and advice between the emergency responders involved and the command structure to minimise risk of harm to staff – and ultimately, the public.

For further information see HSE guidance: Striking the balance.

Joint risk assessment

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) places a requirement on all Category 1 responders to have an accurate and shared understanding of the risks that may affect the geographical area for which they are responsible. A key task for commanders is to build and maintain a common understanding of the full range of risks. This includes the ways in which those risks may be increased, reduced or controlled by decisions made and actions taken.

The Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) identify the joint assessment of risk as the process by which responders achieve a common understanding of threats and hazards, as well as the likelihood of them being realised. This informs decisions on deployments and on the required risk control measures.

Responding organisations must understand the risk mitigation measures to be employed by each individual service. This is to ensure that any potential for unintended consequences is identified before commencing activity.

A joint assessment of the prevailing risks also limits the likelihood of any service following a course of action in which the other services are unable to participate. This increases the operational effectiveness and efficiency of the response, as well as the probability of a successful resolution of the incident.

Developing a working strategy

It is rare for a complete or perfect picture to exist. A working strategy for a rapid onset emergency should therefore be based on the information available at the time. The following prompts should be considered when developing a working strategy:

  • What – are the aims and objectives to be achieved?
  • Who by – police, fire, ambulance and partner organisations?
  • When – timescales, deadlines and milestones?
  • Where – which locations?
  • Why – what is the rationale? Is this consistent with the overall strategic aims and objectives?
  • How – are these tasks going to be achieved?

The JESIP interoperability framework outlines key steps to deliver an effective multi-agency response:

  • identifying hazards (using the METHANE mnemonic)
  • dynamic risk assessment
  • identifying the tasks
  • applying control measures
  • integrated multi-agency operational response plan
  • recording of decisions

These steps are guided by the principles in the Code of Ethics.

Initial incident assessment

The initial incident assessment forms part of a dynamic risk assessment (outlined in the joint decision model) and contributes to shared situational awareness. The initial incident assessment seeks to identify any immediate potential hazards to staff and public.

No single emergency response agency can initially appreciate all relevant dimensions of an emergency situation. A conscious effort is required to share information, to reach a common understanding of risks and their implications. A joint understanding of risk, achieved through sharing information about threats and hazards, enables agencies to agree potential control measures.

To identify all significant hazards and to set a safety strategy, the lead emergency responder should consider setting up an incident safety advisory cell.

Incident safety advisory cell

The incident safety advisory cell should comprise relevant multi-agency operational practitioners, health, safety and medical professionals, and scientific advisers. The purpose of this group is to ensure the continuity of hazard identification and to manage risk control measures across agencies. Professional collaboration ensures the effective use of safety and health expertise and resources.

The incident safety advisory cell should:

  • set the strategy for safety
  • inform the tactical decision-making process, providing timely and consistent safety-critical strategy, information and instruction to all those affected or dealing with the incident
  • implement the operational plan and support the development of safety options to support informed inter-agency operational decision-making
  • coordinate an oversight of health and safety advice and support
  • advise on the incident hazard profile, assess and monitor hazards and activity, and support the recovery and clean-up, including:
    • hazard-profiling of the scene
    • supporting the development of incident risk assessments and management of hazards, including safe systems of work
    • provision of pragmatic safety advice for what can often be a dynamic changing scenario and environment
    • post-event debriefing of staff and structured organisational learning

Generic risk assessment

Forces are required to undertake documented risk assessments in accordance with the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This risk assessment is intended to identify hazards that could cause harm, to assess the risks that may arise from those hazards, and to decide on suitable measures to eliminate or control the risks.

Risk assessments should be completed for all pre-planned operations and should:

  • identify hazards that could cause harm to police officers and staff
  • assess the risks that may arise from those hazards
  • ensure that all control measures are in place
  • note if any further action is required to eliminate or control the risks

As the incident progresses, the officer in charge must continually assess any new hazards or risks and reassess any identified existing risks. Risk assessment forms should be retained by the officer in charge and filed with all relevant documentation.

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