Initially, when preparing a risk assessment for your club, you may find it difficult to understand what the document is supposed to be for, and how to go about creating it. This page will offer some guidance so that you can make your assessment meaningful, and so that your document can be a useful piece of paperwork.
The risk assessment is supposed to be an assessment of any given activity, how safe you expect the activity to be, and should include a plan for how you intend to make the activity safer.
Every person in a position of responsibility connected with the activity should read the risk assessment, and should therefore be aware of both the inherent risks and what should be done to make things safer.
It might seem like an annoying burden of paperwork, especially if you already have some amount of experience with the activity, and have not had any accidents due to your safety controls in the past. However, it may be more helpful to think of the document as a “double check” to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, and to ensure that newer individuals with responsibility in the club can inherit some of your experience and knowledge explicitly.
The risk assessment is not something that you should do once and then forget about. If you come back to it in six months and find that you are not doing quite what it says in terms of mitigations, then this should be a sign that your practices are not as safe as they should be. Furthermore, as the activity develops (perhaps you acquire some new tools or equipment, or move to a new venue), you may need to reassess the risks and see what needs to be done to make things safe.
Clubs that follow a robust risk assessment and risk mitigation strategy tend to be the clubs without any injuries or accidents. Clubs that do not bother assessing the risks and have little by way of explicit strategies to mitigate risk tend to be less organised and less safe. Needless to say, we expect every affiliated club to perform meaningful risk assessments and carry out the mitigations to the best of their ability!
Writing a risk assessment
Blank template and example
We have prepared a blank risk assessment template (.docx format) that you can download and use for your club. Feel free to modify it as you wish.
We have also uploaded an example risk assessment for our Liverpool HEMA club (.pdf format) that you may wish to use for reference to see how we have approached the task.
Identify the risks
The first step of the risk assessment is to identify the various risks.
Begin by identifying those who might be affected by the activity. Typically, this might include instructors, students, venue staff, members of the public, or spectators.
If your venue does not have staff, or if they remain safely in another room the whole time, then the risk to them is zero, so you wouldn’t need to include them; similarly, if you don’t have spectators, or if the venue is not open to the public, you don’t need to include them. However, anyone who might feasibly come to some kind of harm should be considered.
Furthermore, you should include risks to the environment. Is there any way that the venue might be damaged by the activity? Might the equipment be damaged in some fashion? Anything that seems pertinent should probably go into your risk assessment.
Once you have a list of those who may be affected, make a list of what sorts of risks might affect each of these groups of people (or the venue, or equipment, or whatever). Different groups of people may run different risks.
Compile this complete list of risks into the first column of whatever table or document you are using for your risk assessment.
Consider the likelihood and severity of risks
Not every risk is the same. Different things are more or less likely to occur, and different things may cause more or less damage in terms of their severity should they occur.
By assessing the likelihood of each risk you have identified, you can see what things will require more vigilance to guard against, and what things are less likely to happen (but that still need guarding against).
By assessing the severity of each risk, you can see how seriously you need to treat each risk. Even if it is unlikely to occur, if the severity is catastrophic, you need to treat it seriously. For example, training fencing without wearing a fencing mask is probably a foolhardy thing to do, since any eye injury could be catastrophic, hence the AHA Protective Gear statement that:
if training weapons are used in practice, if there is any possible opportunity for them to make physical contact with a training partner, that all participants wear competent (CEN-rated and in good condition) fencing masks (with back of head protection where appropriate).
You should make your assessment honestly, and not shrug it off with thoughts like “ach, that never happens” or “it’ll be fine” because these statements are probably not entirely correct. It’s perfectly alright to make things sound a bit scary at this stage.
Mitigating the risks
Once you have identified all the risks, and assessed the likelihood and severity, you need to work out what should be done to mitigate the risks to create a safer environment.
The goal should be to make the likelihood of each risk as low as practically possible. If you can reduce the severity, that is also great.
For example, requiring more protective gloves and mandating that they must be worn when sparring will reduce both the severity of the risk of injury (because the gloves are better and fingers are less likely to be broken by the same quality of hit) and the likelihood of it happening (because the gloves are always to be worn when sparring, not just sometimes).
Mitigations should not just be lip service to the problem, they should be genuine things that you can do to make the activity safer. You could theoretically mandate that people only ever spar in full plate armour, but that’s probably not feasible; instead, you should choose a more reasonable and sensible mitigation, such as wearing appropriate protective gear for the intensity of the practice AND keeping the intensity of the practice appropriate for the protective gear being worn.
Responsibility for each mitigation should be assigned to someone explicitly. It’s all well and good to write that “everyone should wear appropriate protective gear when sparring”, but who decides what is appropriate? What if someone decides to wear a bit less “because they can handle it”? What about a beginner with very little experience?
Instead of writing in the passive voice, where things are miraculously done by someone, write in the active voice and assign the responsibility to someone in particular. For example, compare the following statement in the passive voice:
Risk: injury during sparring.
Likelihood / severity: medium / catastrophic
Mitigation: students should wear appropriate protective gear when they are sparring.
with this statement in the active voice:
Risk: injury during sparring.
Likelihood / severity: medium / catastrophic
Mitigation: the instructor must supervise all sparring and should ensure that students wear appropriate protective gear when they are sparring.
Clearly, the second example is better, because it puts the responsibility squarely onto the instructor to ensure that the right protective gear is worn. It also suggests what the practice should be: rather than just assuming that everyone knows what they should be wearing, the second example inherently suggests that the instructor should take an active role in making sure that people know what is suitable or not.
Staying up to date
It is good practice to look over your risk assessment on a somewhat regular basis (maybe every three months or so) to ensure that the way things are done in the club is the safe way of doing things as per the risk assessment.
It’s also good practice to make sure that any newcomers (perhaps new students, certainly any new instructors or assistants) are aware of the risk assessment and the mitigations, and how the mitigations are incorporated into the regular practices.
There is no shame in changing or updating the risk assessment if you think it wasn’t quite right or if it wasn’t extensive enough. That is not an acknowledgement of your past failings; it is rather an acknowledgement that your understanding of how to run the club safely has improved and therefore the paperwork should be updated to reflect these improved methods.
Even if the document does not end up being ground breaking or rocket science, the process of thinking about the risks and how to mitigate them is valuable. Therefore, it is better to go through the process yourself and not just copy and paste from another organisation’s document.
Hopefully this guidance will help you prepare your risk assessments for your various activities.