Searching for solid ground04 January 2019

Performing service and maintenance tasks off-site need not be unsafe. But because risks could be less controlled than in a plant environment, engineers need to take care, and be particularly alert for changing situations

While risk assessment has become a routine part of project planning and management in almost any industry, it is often associated with a familiar environment – one’s own place of work, whether that be office, shop, factory or warehouse. But service and installation engineers, and indeed many other workers, have to go out to other sites to get the job done – and there the risks can be very different. Some industries have established routines for hazard assessment on site, and there are lessons to be learned from many sectors.

Daniel Forrest is the owner-operator of Shepperton-based Forrest Industrial, which performs a wide range of lifting and transport operations. “Everything is about safety,” he says. “You can’t take risks, you can’t cut corners, you have to play it by the book”. On arriving at a site, his first task is checking for overhead lines, structures and trees – “anything above you is a danger” – then checking that the ground is hard and stable. Positioning the crane is vital: “First you check for reach, then slew round to make sure you’ve got a clear area to work in.” Forrest obviously has a well-established routine – but how can service engineers achieve the same?

The Association of Lorry Loader Manufacturers and Importers (ALLMI) might have the answer in a recent briefing note about On-Site Hazard Assessment for Mobile Engineers (Guidance Note GN028, £7.50 from the ALLMI website). The note is not for undertaking actual lifting operations, but specifically aimed at maintenance, service and repair activities within the lorry loader industry. Nevertheless, in just a few pages it covers many principles that are common to most site engineering works, such as:

● The legal framework, including the application of PUWER and LOLER regulations. The note also emphasises the point (from the Management of Health and Safety At Work Regulations 1999) that the employer is responsible for risks both to their employees and to ‘persons not in his employment’.

● The use of risk assessments and Safe Systems of Work (SSoW), and the need to review them both on an ongoing basis and in the immediate environment of the work (see also ‘Statement of Truth’, OE December 2018, This includes the use of an on-site hazard assessment check sheet.

● Ongoing monitoring of the hazard assessment process, at the site itself and through discussion and review.

The briefing note also includes a sample on-site hazard assessment form. This contains a checklist of potential hazard points – everything from ‘access and egress’ to ‘hot works, abrasive cutting and welding’ – and for each one it asks the question of whether existing SSoWs are adequate, and whether additional control measures are needed. For example, lone workers might wear a panic button to call for help (pictured, inset). There is also a supplementary list of ‘post-task checks’, including site cleaning and completion of paperwork. Much of it is applicable to any service task on any site. Of course, the operator should have the specific training and experience to be able to use equipment properly (see also;, but this is the bare minimum. Safe Systems of Work are a response to a risk assessment, defining a set of instructions (often in the form of a checklist) that should enable the engineer to undertake a task while addressing the concerns raised by the risk assessment.

Another useful source of information is the Construction Plant-Hire Association (CPA), which leads the Strategic Forum – Plant Safety Group, with input from other construction and industry trade bodies. This group publishes specific guidance on plant such as telehandlers and mobile elevating work platforms (see also One example of its work is a guidance note on ‘Reducing Unintended Movement of Plant’ (, which contains a number of practical case studies; it identifies poor planning as one of the most common causes of such accidents.

Other risk-prone industries have come up with their own approaches to hazard assessment.


A real challenge of working off-site is that new, unforeseen hazards may appear, making any pre-prepared risk assessment inadequate or irrelevant. One approach to such changing conditions is known as Dynamic Risk Assessment (DRA). This was pioneered by the Fire Service (, and has since been taken up (in one form or another) by industries as varied as the police (, railways (, nuclear power ( and BBC film crews ( The DRA is defined as the continuing assessment of risk in a rapidly-changing environment at an incident. It is a process of quickly determining the nature of the risk, rather than the actual control measure, although it should immediately help to determine whether personnel should actually be operating in the area. As Keith Silvester, technical manager at ALLMI, suggests, “it does rely on the employer having a good bank of risk assessments.”

A very practical approach to hazard assessment in dangerous areas has been promoted by the SURVIVE Group (Safe Use of Roadside Verges in Vehicular Emergencies), started by a consortium of breakdown and recovery operators. While a few of its points are specific to their own industry, most are more universal, and the way they have communicated them is a lesson to other sectors. For instance, part of its very readable 10-point Safety Rules Card for operators (download via states:

● Only act within my levels of authority/expertise and never exceed them

● Think before I act and, if I am unsure, seek guidance

●Challenge safety-related non-compliance by others, and report if necessary.

Forestry is a very high-risk industry, and the Forestry Industry Safety Accord (FISA) is a good source of practical safety examples that can be used as models for hazard assessment and systems of work. FISA Information Leaflet 002-1214 ( describes the process of walking the site, talking to staff and listening to safety concerns. It also directs the user to a number of specific FISA safety guides. One example is document FISA703, Debogging and Recovery of Forestry Machines ( This is an updated version of HSE guidance, with practical instructions on what to do when a vehicle gets bogged down, assessing the area, and safely winching it out.

A number of other industries have expertise in identifying and dealing with specific hazards, though again many of them are covered by HSE briefing notes.

Lighting for safety

Waste management firm Grundon has started to retrofit a new lighting system to its refuse collection fleet for improved night-time visibility when reversing. Labcraft’s Banksman light, fitted to each side of the body, produces a ‘bright carpet of light’ covering up to 30m2 around the vehicle when the driver engages reverse. “So far we’ve fitted the Banksman to 130 vehicles,” says regional operations manager Anthony Tattersall. “They operate at around 100 locations per day and often in poor light or darkness, where they are reversing up to 70% of the time”. The lights can be justified in terms of reduced repair costs alone, as well as improving safety.

Toby Clark

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