Introduction to Practice

This section sets out the steps necessary for successful risk assessment and control.

We consider the information that you need, suggest a methodology and list what should be recorded. We also look at the relative merits of different ways of managing risks. This should help you to find controls that reduce risk without damaging the environment or spoiling the experience of our visitors.

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This section sets out the steps necessary for successful risk assessment and control.

We consider the information that you need, suggest a methodology and list what should be recorded. We also look at the relative merits of different ways of managing risks. This should help you to find controls that reduce risk without damaging the environment or spoiling the experience of our visitors.

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There is no universally accepted format for carrying out risk assessments. The Health and Safety Executive recommend a five-step approach for risk assessment in the work place. We have used this model as a basis for assessing risks facing visitors.

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HAZARDS

Hazards likely to be encountered in the countryside and in the historic built environment fall into two main groups

IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

Natural hazards include:

  • unprotected drops (such as cliff edges)
  • water (deep, fast-flowing, tidal, cold or with currents)
  • falling rocks, trees or branches
  • weather conditions (including extreme cold, high winds, electrical storms, fog, blizzards and sudden changes)
  • animals and insects (including Weil’s Disease from rat’s urine and Lyme Disease from tick bites)
  • poisonous plants.

Man-made hazards include:

  • buildings, bridges, structures, canals, lakes, ponds, mine shafts, fences and barbed wire
  • unprotected drops • machinery, vehicles and boats
  • work activity (especially farming and forestry where heavy machinery is used)
  • sport and recreation activities, whether informal or organised, (such as walking, cycling, swimming, horse riding, hang gliding, canoeing, fishing and mountain biking)
  • confined spaces (such as tunnels)
  • worn steps and stairs, uneven paths
  • events and pressure from crowds of people.

IN THE HISTORIC BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Natural hazards include:

  • unprotected drops (such as rock outcrops)
  • water (deep, fast-flowing, tidal, cold or with currents)
  • falling rocks, trees, or branches
  • poisonous plants in gardens

Man-made hazards include:

  • buildings, bridges, structures, canals, lakes, ponds, mine shafts, fences, paths
  • unprotected drops (such as at castles, abbeys, gardens and other historic buildings and landscapes)
  • steep stairs, narrow passages, and confined spaces (such as tunnels, dungeons)
  • low light levels
  • worn steps, stairs and carpets
  • uneven pathsand paving stones
  • pressure from crowds of people
  • machinery, vehicles and boats
  • work activity (such as building work and landscape and garden maintenance, particularly where heavy machinery is used)
  • sport and recreation activities, whether informal or organised (such as walking, cycling or swimming)
  • other events (such as concerts, pageants, historical re-enactments, fundraising events)
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A useful strategy to adopt for hazard spotting is to imagine looking through the eyes of the visitor, for whom there should be ‘no nasty surprises’.

To do this you need to know as much as possible about your visitors. Local staff may have information, but you may also need to carry out research to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Methods include specific visitor surveys, adding questions to surveys conducted for other purposes, consulting user groups and conducting focus groups. Simply observing visitor behaviour can also be extremely informative.

The information that you gather can help you to understand the age, abilities and experience of your visitors and why they are there. It is important to know the extent to which they are aware of any risks they face. You should then be able to judge who could be harmed and how.

Consider what your visitors do on site and look out for risks that some activities may pose to other users. Watch out for new or unusual activities that bring new risks. Are there any special events such as sponsored walks, concerts, festivals or rallies? Look at the accidents that might occur at different types of location, for example castle walls, cliffs, forests and car parks.

Accidents or incidents that have occurred can give an indication of the likelihood of future harm. In the workplace there should be good records of accidents and injuries. Elsewhere it can be harder to obtain accurate accident statistics for visitors. Accidents that occur on unstaffed sites are often not reported. Even on staffed sites the manager may not know if someone has an accident.

Build relationships with the emergency services (including mountain rescue and coastguard when appropriate). This is an important part in planning for possible emergencies but should also help ensure that they notify you of any incidents that they attend. (See section on Emergency planning and procedures).

You can use your literature, information points and visitor centres to encourage visitors to report accidents.

Typically the most numerous accidents are slips, trips and falls. They should usually be considered as likely or very likely in your risk assessments though, in most cases, the consequences of such incidents are minor.

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Acceptability of risk

IS THE RISK ACCEPTABLE?

The level of risk helps to determine whether you should consider introducing further risk control measures.

Always bear in mind that it is not usually possible or necessarily desirable to eliminate risk altogether. The aim is to reduce it to an acceptable level. However determining what is acceptable can be tricky. Even when the likelihood of harm is high and the consequences extremely severe, the risk might be acceptable.

This is the case, for example, for mountaineers who may accept significant risks for the benefits of testing themselves in extreme conditions.

When the likelihood of harm is low but the consequences severe, it can be more difficult to judge what risks are acceptable and what level of responsibility visitors should take for their own safety.

ACCEPTING RISKS FOR THE BENEFITS

There are many circumstances where we may choose to accept or even introduce challenge that may include risks, for the benefits that can result. An example is in adventure playgrounds and informal play settings, where children can learn through experience of hazards. It is important that parents and children are aware of the risks that they are taking on.

You must also have systems in place to ensure that the design of play equipment itself is safe (for example, free from sharp edges and robust enough to take likely loads), and that the equipment is properly maintained.

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Case Study 1: Coed y Brenin – Structured introduction of risk for Mountain Bikers

Case Study 2: St Mary’s Church, Rye, East Sussex

A case study looking at the management of visitor safety going up the tower at St Mary’s Church.

Hazards include:

  • steep stairs
  • low parapets.

Benefits:

  • seeing the bells and clock mechanism
  • spectacular views from the tower

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DECIDING ON CONTROL MEASURES

First, consider whether your risk assessment indicates the need for any further action.

If the assessment shows that the level of risk is already at an acceptable level, then no new risk controls need to be introduced.

There are many such situations where the risk can be accepted – often as a result of a combination of factors such as:

  • the hazard is obvious
  • the level of risk is low
  • physical precautions would have an adverse impact on the visitor experience
  • physical precautions would be impractical or would cause damage to the landscape or habitats
  • accepting the risk confers significant benefits.

Accepting risk without taking further precautions may be perfectly reasonablein the circumstances. But you must explain your reasoning when deciding to do nothing further and record it as part of the risk assessment process.

If the level of risk is not acceptable, then choose the most effective risk control measure that is practicable from the hierarchy that follows.

HIERARCHY OF RISK CONTROL

Eliminating the hazard The most effective way to reduce risk is to eliminate a hazard altogether – for example, the hazard from rock falls can be eliminated by removing loose rock or anchoring it in place. The hazard from drowning in a pond could be eliminated by draining it.

However, eliminating the hazard is often not possible or desirable. For example, we could not remove cliffs, crags or rivers from the landscape. We would not remove historic walls and stones from the precincts of an abbey, or bollards on a quayside even though they may create a tripping hazard. The features that give rise to the hazard may well be the very things that the visitor has come to see.

Example Cotehele, Cornwall – The hazard from moving machinery is eliminated by securing the mechanism.

Preventing access

If you cannot eliminate the hazard, consider preventing access to it. Once again, this is often not practicable or desirable. For example, we could not fence the edge of every cliff top, crag and river.

Nevertheless there are some situations where this control is used even though it may detract from the visitor experience.

Your detailed risk assessment will help you to judge when access restrictions are desirable. Your risk assessment for a lightly-visited length of cliff top path might indicate that the hazard is obvious and fencing is not practical or proportionate to the risk. However, it may indicate that at popular view points, where people would gather together, fencing to prevent access to the drop is necessary.

Managing visitor movement

Another option is to direct the flow of visitors. You could, for example, create paths that take people away from particular dangers or use dense, prickly vegetation as a deterrent to straying from a particular route. This measure is not as robust as those listed above as some people are likely to ignore the route that you are encouraging them to follow.

Informing and educating visitors

The final and commonly-used form of control is to inform and educate visitors. Consider to what extent you can rely on notices, leaflets, web information and posters to get your messages across. Whilst it is generally unnecessary to warn of obvious hazards, you need to ensure that your visitors are aware of any unusual or hidden risks. For more detail on the contribution of information and education to visitor safety management click here.

Choosing the right control Sometimes legal constraints will affect what you can do – for example, if the land is designated a site of special scientific interest or if there is a tree preservation order. Planning restrictions may apply if the land is in a National Park or is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

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We also explore the application of the risk control hierarchy in dealing with the risk of falls in historic properties.

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT CONTROL

The quality of the landscape or significance of the historic environment will also affect what you can do.

The ‘Risk, landscape asset value and appropriateness of physical controls’ diagram shows a relationship between the level of risk, the asset value of a landscape or heritage site and the appropriateness of physical risk control measures.

Physical risk controls can have different impacts on asset value. Physical controls could include, for example:

  • removable barriers or temporary signs that would not permanently damage or adversely affect the asset value
  • fixed physical changes that would damage the asset value.

Any addition, whether permanent or temporary, should be appropriate to its context. Make sure that the materials used and their positioning, size and mass are all appropriate and respect the landscape or setting and significance of the historic asset.

Places with exceptional landscape or heritage value may be damaged by any type of physical intervention.

However, on occasion, the importance of allowing public access might outweigh some level of adverse impact from the introduction of safety precautions.

Management controls have the advantage that they do not require physical changes to be made and are less likely to spoil the visitor’s experience (and may even enhance it). They might include:

  • ensuring visitors are fully aware of the risks, so that they may choose to accept them
  • providing alternative access routes that avoid high-risk areas
  • allowing access, but only under supervision (by providing guides, for example)
  • restricting access, but only in extreme circumstances where the risk is very high.

The ‘Risk, landscape asset value and appropriateness of physical controls’ diagram provides general guidance towards sensible and proportionate management of risks and the selection of appropriate risk controls. How you apply it to your own sites will be determined in the context of specific risk assessments for each individual case.

The presumption against physical control measures does not mean that they should never be considered or applied.

They may be necessary where a medium or high risk of injury to visitors cannot be effectively controlled by management controls alone or, for example, where the risk profile of the location is temporarily increased due to factors such as bad weather or crowd pressure.

In those instances physical control measures may well be required in order to facilitate safe public access, irrespective of the asset value; or access prevented altogether for a period of time.

Physical intervention might sometimes be necessary to allow public access to sites that are protected for their environmental importance. Boardwalks, for example, can be used to prevent damage to sensitive flora.

Sometimes legal constraints or regulatory requirements affect what you can do – for example, under ancient monuments legislation, or if the landscape is protected. Planning conditions or listed building status may prevent structural changes or determine their nature.

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Skipton Castle Woods, North Yorkshire.

WATER SAFETY IN SKIPTON CASTLE WOODS

Description of the site

The woods are close to the medieval Skipton Castle near the centre of Skipton, a sizeable canal town in the Yorkshire Dales.

The woods are a popular spot for local people and tourists, and many paths are suitable for families and people with mobility difficulties. Most of this ancient woodland is a mix of broadleaf trees such as oak, ash, lime, alder and beech, with some Scot’s pine and Norway spruce.

VSG guiding principles and risk control spectrum

The site is a moderately developed location with a reasonable level of visitor use. Although close to the town centre, the terrain is considered to be rural.

Water features on site

The woods follow the steep-sided valley of Eller Beck and contain water features that have their origins in the town’s industrial past. The main approach follows a raised towpath with a canal feeder (Springs Canal) on one side and the beck on the other, with drops mostly protected by a sturdy post and rail fence.

Just inside the main gate at the entrance to the woods, the path crosses a small stream in a man-made cascade (photograph 1). The level bridge, although narrow, has a handrail on the lower side and should present few problems, particularly given the modest level of visitor use.

The main path, which is wide and well-surfaced, then heads up river with gentle slopes down to the river on one side and an old shallow leat on the other.

Further up the valley is a pond known as the Round Dam, a Skipton Castle responsibility (photographs 2 and 3). Close approach to the water’s edge is easy at several points, and there are seats nearby. However, the water at the edges is shallow, and the hazard obvious. The water in the middle of the pond is likely to be considerably deeper. There was no evidence that locals use the dam for swimming, and the film on the surface would put many off.

The built structure (photograph 4), probably an outflow, has been guarded by steel gates at water’s level and iron bars and spikes on top to prevent access. There was little evidence of worn paths or desire lines leading to it, so it is unlikely to be used for diving.

Nearby is another feature known as the Long Dam, created by damming the Eller Beck to create a narrow body of water two hundred metres in length, feeding the leat to the mill. At the dam end is a cascade about 1.5 metres high with a viewing position protected by a stone parapet about 1 metre high (photograph 5). There is no pool at the base of the cascade, just exposed rocks, so there is no temptation for youngsters to jump off.

As the stream enters a gorge, there is a bridge which provides ample protection against any fall from height (photograph 6). Further on, the stream emerges from a modern culvert under the adjacent main road (photograph 7). The path around the top has adequate protection against falls from height.

Water safety hazards include:

  • inadvertent falls into water
  • deliberate entry into the water, (for swimming or to retrieve something or rescue a dog)
  • risks from raised water levels in flood conditions
  • risks from toxic blue-green algae in summer.

People at risk

Visitors, particularly children if not adequately supervised.

Action needed, or is the risk acceptable?

  • Given that the water at the edges of the Round Dam, the main body of water, is shallow, and that there is no evidence of swimming or diving, the installation of public rescue equipment (i.e. throwlines) seems unjustified.
  • Weekly inspection in hot summer weather for the presence of toxic blue-green algae. If present, post warning signs to advise that people and dogs should not enter the water.
  • Woodland site manager to inform Skipton Castle of any issues regarding the Round Dam and Mill Race features.

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Rationale for visitor experience

The Cliffs of Moher Coastal Path is part of a long-distance trail running through a UNESCO designated global geopark of high historic, landscape, cultural, economic and social value. The challenge is to promote sustainable tourism whilst protecting the cultural and natural heritage.

There is an immediate tension between the need to give walkers an experience which reflects the challenge, scenic natural beauty and excitement of a cliff top walk and the need for that walk to take place with a reasonable degree of safety.

There are large numbers of visitors walking part or all of this section, most having arrived by car or coach at the visitor centre. The majority have no previous experience of the site and are unprepared and ill-equipped for the terrain. This section has been classed as ‘moderately developed’ in accordance with the VSG risk control spectrum. The terrain would be classedas ‘rugged’ coastline associated with a ‘lightly developed’ zone, but an overall classification as ‘moderately developed’ is appropriate in terms of the level of management intervention necessary as a result of the high numbers of visitors with low levels of skill and self-reliance.

Deliberate risk-taking behaviour oen occurs. Some is the result of bravado amongst young males. In other cases, people appear to be looking for a ‘wilder’ landscape than can be found within the Visitor Centre. They actively seek the thrill and excitement of being right on the cliff edge and being able to look down to the sea at the foot of the cliffs. Typically they try to capture themselves in this position with an iconic ‘selfie’ (photograph 1).

Main hazards to visitors include:

  • a fall from height from paths, cliff edges and unprotected drops or into fissures
  • a fall from height as a result of rock failure or landslip
  • drowning as a result of a fall from height into the sea
  • trips and slips on grass, rocks, steps and other surfaces• contact with farm animals.

Description or photo of hazard

Crumbling cliff edge with sheer drop of over 200 metres. Unprotected edge; potential for single or multiple falls from height due to cliff collapse or landslip, loss of balance in high winds, or through risk-taking behaviour.

People at risk?

All visitors, but particularly inexperienced walkers leaving the visitor centre.

Typical outcome

Fatality.

Risk controls in place

  • Provision of an official path set back from the edge along most parts of this section – the principal control is to direct visitors to follow this path (photograph 2).
  • Information boards, trail markers and warning signs in position at VisitorCentre and along path. Signs instruct walkers to ‘keep to the constructed path’ or ‘stay on the official path’ and‘do not approach the cliff edge’.

Discussion

The consequences of any fall from height are likely to be fatal. The likelihood of an incident is considered to be ‘possible’. The risk of cliff collapse, rock fall or landslip is unknown without more detailed geological survey work.Many visitors leave the official path and use worn, unofficial paths, oen very close to the unprotected edge. Once a few people have done this, others follow on the assumption that this is acceptable and ‘safe’.

There are many incentives for visitors to do this:

  • the narrowness of the official path
  • the unsuitable and oœen muddy surface
  • the obstruction of the stile at the boundary between adjoining landowners
  • the frequent gaps in the vertical stone flags (photograph 3)
  • the proximity of the visitor to barbed wire and electric fencing on the official path
  • the lack of suitable positions along the official path from where visitors can take photographs of the cliffs in relative safety (photograph 4)
  • the behaviour of some risk-taking visitors encourages others to follow suit.

The key measures to improve safety are:

  • provide and maintain a wider, improved official path set back from the exposed edge, but with opportunities for visitors to see and photograph the cliffs and themselves
  • undertake a geological survey to establish the relative levels of risk from cliff failure in this section
  • provide better information and more effective signage for visitors.

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Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

You must be able to demonstrate that you have a system in place to identify hazards and evaluate risks. But you are not required to record every possible type of hazard.

Ignore the trivial and concentrate on the significant hazards that could result in serious harm, or affect several people.

You should keep a record of your assessments, particularly when significant risks are identified, whether or not any further precautions are proposed. This will be useful for later review and for sharing the findings with your site staff.

When writing down your results keep it simple. Risk assessments do not have to be perfect, but they must be ‘suitable and sufficient’. The level of detail in a risk assessment should be broadly proportionate to the risk and you should be able to show that:

  • a proper check was made
  • you considered who might be affected
  • you considered all the significant hazards, activities and operations, taking into account the number of people who could be involved and the likelihood of them coming to harm
  • you consulted others in the process – for example, user groups, local rangers
  • you reviewed existing precautions and judged them to be reasonable and the residual risks acceptable; or you concluded that additional precautions were required.

Record any legal constraints or regulatory requirements that affect what you can do – for example, if the landscape is protected or is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Record whether buildings are listed under regulations which protect their historical and architectural significance.

Keep a note of recommendations made by others that you have consulted – for example when specialist advice on historical significance or landscape quality affects the choice of risk controls.

It is important, when proposing a preferred control measure, to explain your thinking and demonstrate that you have considered alternatives. You should therefore include a clear, robust appraisal of all the options.

This will help with the regulatory process or if there is a claim against you by providing a record of the decision-making process and the rationale behind the risk controls adopted.

Your risk assessments may not result in any new risk control measures being introduced.

Th­e assessment may indicate that a particular location or hazard presents a signicant yet acceptable level of risk and that no further precautions are proposed. If this is the case, be sure to record your reasoning.

If anything subsequently happens that casts doubt on your assessment, carry out a further review.

If you find that there are a lot of improvements that you could make, big and small, don’t try to do everything at once. Make a plan with sensible priorities that identifies who will do what, where and when. Tackle the things that will provide the greatest improvement or prevent the worst anticipated accident first. Consider also the things that can be achieved in either the short or longer term. The better, more robust long-term solution may take longer to arrange and complete but significant risks must be considered promptly. Your action plan should clearly show when actions are scheduled to be completed.

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Clatworthy Reservoir, West Somerset

You should regularly review risk assessments as a matter of course. In addition they should be reviewed immediately following:

  • an incident or near miss
  • a significant change in the number or type of visitors
  • new activities or working practices on site.

Such reviews may highlight the need for additional or alternative risk controls, or may conclude that existing risk controls are sufficient. On occasion the review might even suggest the removal of a risk control; for example if it was inconsistent with the treatment of similar hazards elsewhere on the property. The revised findings should be recorded and retained for future reference.

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In summary…

  • Identify the hazards on your site.
  • Know who is using your site and what they are doing there.
  • Think about what accidents could happen (or have happened) and how they might be caused.
  • Decide if current risk control measures are adequate or more needs to be done.
  • When introducing new risk controls choose the most effective ones that are practicable bearing in mind their impact on benefits.
  • Record your findings and review your risk assessments on a regular basis.
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Introduction to Practice

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