It's A Risky Business: Scoring Risk Assesments

If there’s one thing that causes controversy among H&S professionals, it’s the thorny subject of scoring a risk assessment. Risk scores and risk matrices aren’t mentioned in any health and safety legislation and the HSE themselves say that most businesses will not need to use them. In fact they say in their article that getting risk scores wrong can result in failing to take important control measures.

Moreover, when we score a risk this is often based on our personal opinion, not on concrete evidence. Allotting a numerical score can give the impression that we are basing our score on certified data, rather than what is no more than an educated guess. This is the issue – and potential danger – with using risk scores, so why do we use them?

Some companies like to use their risk matrix across the organisation - not just for H&S risks but for all risk. Their risk register therefore has comparable scoring. When scored in a uniform way, it gives us a means to decide whether we are doing enough, and to prioritise any further actions we need to take to reduce the risk to the ‘lowest level reasonably practicable”

I set out below my way of scoring: others will disagree, but it works for me.

Risk Table

I have deliberately kept the colour-coding vague as all companies have their own ideas on this: some clients allow a score of 6-8 as ‘green’ i.e. low risk, whereas others will only have up to 4 as low risk.


  • Introducing admin controls (training, safe systems of work etc) reduces the likelihood, but not the severity.
  • PPE may possibly reduce the severity but is not reliable as people might forget to wear it or wear it incorrectly. In the scenario I have described, wearing gloves does not stop someone accidentally drinking the acid, or behaving irresponsibly and throwing it on someone.
  • To reduce the severity, you need to substitute the product/process for something less harmful – e.g. dilute the acid, reduce the weight of a load, use low voltage AND provide the correct PPE.

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