One of the most important safety considerations as a youth worker is knowing how to do a risk assessment. This is a method of identifying potential hazards you might encounter in your youth programs and evaluating if there’s anything that can be done to either prevent or reduce the risk of an accident occurring.
To help you know how to do a risk assessment, we’ve provided a step-by-step guide below. There are also free risk assessment templates for you to download – these are in Word format (so that you can edit if required) and PDF format.
1) Identify The Hazard
Hazards in youth work and youth ministry could be anything – there are so many possibilities that will vary based upon the activities you do, where your programs are run, etc. Here are some possible hazards to look out for:
- Electrical hazards – faulty wiring, overloaded plug sockets, electrical appliances next to a water source
- Mobility hazards – poor lighting, items left in walkways, uneven walking surfaces, upturned carpeting
- Emergency hazards – blocked fire exits, lack of fire extinguishers
- Activity hazards – hiking in the mountains, swimming, heatstroke, bonfires, chubby bunny
- Other hazards – badly stacked items, lack of seatbelts in vans
2) Identify Who Might Be Harmed
Some hazards will affect everyone, such as electricity, bonfires or lack of seatbelts. Some people may be more susceptible to hazards than others though.
Therefore, take extra care when considering whether people – youth or adult volunteers/helpers – have particular needs. Some of the students may not be able to swim, a volunteer may have poor eyesight or a young person may be on crutches or in a wheelchair. Factors like these will affect their susceptibility to hazards.
3) Evaluate Risks
Now that you’ve identified the hazards, it’s time to evaluate the likelihood of the hazard occurring. If you’re going hiking in bad weather or the height of summer, you may deem the risk of slipping or dehydration to be high. Going swimming in a pool with two trained lifeguards will be regarded as a lower risk.
The likelihood of an incident occurring will depend on a variety of factors, whether that be adult to youth ratios, weather, location, activities, age of the youth, etc.
Once you’ve considered the chances of a hazard occurring, identify if you can eliminate the hazard completely or if there’s anything you can do to reduce the risk of it happening. Here are some examples of how this can be done:
- Prevent access – if there’s a room or cupboard at your church or youth center that has hazardous materials in it, make sure it’s always locked
- Avoid the hazard – when setting up a bonfire, ensure it’s away from flammable material, dry trees, propane tanks, etc
- Choose less risky options – when going hiking, consider using a less dangerous route
- Provide protective equipment – make sure all transportation has seatbelts
- Organization – with bonfires, set up the seating a safe distance away yourself, rather than having the young people grab a chair and putting it too close to the fire
- Knowledge – make sure everyone is aware of fire exits
- First aid – always have a first aid kit on hand, along with someone trained in first aid
- Communicate – make sure you have a fully-charged cell phone if doing activities in the middle of nowhere
4) Record Hazards And Risks And Implement Precautions
This section should be read in conjunction with the downloadable Risk Assessment template below:
After identifying all the potential hazards and risks, write down the results of what you’ve found so that you have a record. This will serve as a good reference point when organizing activities and will prove that safety was considered in the event of an accident actually happening.
One way of recording hazards and risks is to rate them on a scale of severity and likelihood. The severity scale ranges from Negligible (1) to Very Severe (5), while the likelihood scale ranges from Very Unlikely (1) to Almost Certain (5).
Depending on your preference, you can choose to use either the colored scale or the numerical scale (whereby you multiply the two numbers together) in order to assess the overall risk for each hazard.
If a hazard falls within the yellow or red risk levels, or has an overall risk rating of eight and above, it’s worth considering whether it can be avoided completely, or whether anything can be done to lessen the potential harm or likelihood of it happening.
While identifying hazards and risk levels are important, setting out a plan to address hazards and lower the level of risk is the most critical part of the risk assessment process. To do this, look at each hazard individually and determine what action (if any) can be taken to reduce the likelihood or severity of the hazard – these are called control measures.
For example, if you’re going to be going swimming, potential hazards might include drowning, slip and fall accidents, horseplay/flips in water and sunburn/dehydration (if the pool is outside). In this example, you might list the following control measures:
- Drowning – swimming listed on parental consent form (including water depth); provision of floatation devices and/or life preservers; lifeguard on duty; first aider present
- Slip and fall accidents – pre-swimming safety talk; written rules on display; appropriate adult to youth ratio for supervision and correction
- Horseplay/flips in water – pre-swimming safety talk; written rules on display; appropriate adult to youth ratio for supervision and correction
- Sunburn/dehydration – safety talk about signs of sunburn and dehydration; sunscreen provided; water provided; limit swimming session time
n.b. This isn’t an exhaustive list of potential hazards or control measures – the responsibility falls on you, your team or your organization to identify and address all potential hazards and risks.
If there are risks that your helpers or youth should be made specifically aware of, ensure that this is communicated to all of them (such as location of fire exits).
6) Review The Risk Assessment
Just before doing potentially hazardous activities, review the risk assessment again. Check whether any of the hazards have changed or if there are any new hazards. Other factors may have changes too – the weather may be worse than you were anticipating, or lifeguards may not be available at a swimming pool.
Update the risk assessment accordingly and ensure any necessary changes are communicated as appropriate.
Hopefully this guide means you now know how to do a risk assessment in order to keep your youth group safe.
Question: Do you have any advice on how to do a risk assessment? Please share any tips for best practice in the comments below.
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