Benefits of Digital Risk Assessments

Written by Roelof Steyn, General Manager of Product

Few people working in a security-conscious organisation or industry would be unfamiliar with risk assessments. Choosing between paper-based and digital risk assessments is likely the next question. But to ensure that we’re all on the same page, let’s define a risk assessment. 

Risk assessments are an element of a risk management strategy with the ultimate goal of reducing the negative consequences of a risk event. As such, a risk assessment is the combination of hazard identification and analysis, as well as risk evaluation. This implies a two-step process: 

  1. The identification and analysis of a potential source of harm, and 
  2. Making go/no-go/conditional decisions based on the severity of the risk. 

Or, putting it simply, a risk assessment determines what could go wrong, the likelihood of that happening, what are the consequences of that event, and how tolerant we are towards those consequences. 

A digital risk assessment is simply a risk assessment in digital form, including the digital process and decision making which may be rule-based or AI-driven. This implies a three-step process: 

  1. Digital forms for hazard identification, review, and analysis, 
  2. A decision-making process, and 
  3. A digital communications and reporting mechanism. 

Expanding on and explaining these steps will also demonstrate the benefits of digital risk assessments. 

Digital forms for hazard identification, review, and analysis 

Remember the dark ages before we had mobile devices and the Internet? Having to fill out a SWMS, Take-5 or just some questionnaire with all those non-applicable fields? Having a pile of paper-based hazard reports in your in-tray? 

Thankfully those days are over as we can now do these tasks on our devices using apps or websites. Digital technology allows us to have the right form for the right scenario available at the right time. And this works both ways: for the person completing the risk assessment or filling out a hazard identification, as well as for the person that needs to review it and make decisions. 

Some less-obvious benefits include: 

  • No need to complete details such as name and phone number, as these are already captured in your profile. And location services can eliminate having to type an address. 
  • It becomes easy to develop custom forms for different teams, different types of work, different travel arrangements (think global air travel vs long distance driving in the Australian Outback). 
  • The ability to include media (photos, video, audio). 

How digital risk assessments effect the decision-making process 

At JESI we developed a digital risk assessment with an automated decision making process. This process evaluates a risk assessment, based on a set of configurable rules, to automatically approve or decline an activity, or to refer it to a human for review and decision. 

The results of this process are staggering: 80% of all submitted risk assessments are automatically approved or declined. In other words, only 1 in 5 risk assessments has to be reviewed by a human. And this happens instantaneously. 

Digital risk assessments and their communications and reporting mechanism 

Digital technology allows global and instant communications between the person filling out the form and the person reviewing the form. My personal favourite benefit of digital risk assessments is the ability to click on the submit button, instead of walking around with a piece of paper trying to find the right person to sign it off. Or, if you are that “right person” (i.e. the reviewer/approver), you can sign it off from anywhere - no need to be at your desk, no need for your team to waste time trying to find you. 

Any well designed digital system will record and store data. If used properly, this gives us several more benefits of digital risk assessments: 

  • Record keeping. 
  • Automated reporting. 
  • Easy to demonstrate compliance and submit audit reports. 
  • Apply analytics to determine areas of improvement in fields such as safety, productivity, efficiency, cost savings, etc. 
  • Along with other data sets, it can be applied in predictive analytics to identify future hazards and the associated root causes. 

A Practical Example: paper-based vs digital risk assessments

Action

Worker completes risk assessment

Paper-Based

Fills out a piece of paper, including redundant and non-applicable information. 
15 minutes.

Digital

Completes on mobile phone. Only answer applicable and relevant questions. 
5 minutes. 

Submit for review

Worker finds the supervisor, which may or may not be in his office to review and approve.  Between 5 and 30 minutes. 

Automatically and instantaneous. 

Supervisor review

Reads and interprets worker’s handwriting, applies the rules, and makes a go/no-go decision.  10 minutes. 

Automatically reviewed: zero time  If supervisor review needed: reviews the risk assessment without having to interpret handwriting. The system guides the supervisor to those answers that need to be reviewed - no need to read the entire assessment. Go/no-go decision made in 5 minutes. 

Filing

30 minutes for a large number of documents.  Let’s say 3 minutes per document. 

Recording of paperless data:  instantaneous. 

Risks

  • The worker may not be able to find his supervisor and take the journey without approval. 
  • The supervisor may make a mistake in applying the rules. 
  • The document gets lost. 
  • No internet connectivity. 

Total time

Between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Let's call it 40 minutes.

10 minutes if human review required, 5 minutes otherwise.  As stated earlier, we know that 80% of risk assessments are automatically reviewed: 80% of the process will be completed in 5 minutes, and the remaining 20% will be completed in 10 minutes. 

Doing the maths shows us that digital risk assessments save about 85% of workers’ time in completing and reviewing risk assessments compared to paper-based. In other words, it frees up more than 30 minutes per risk assessment. 

For one of JESI’s customers, this means a saving of about 900 hours/month across the team. 

Conclusion

The benefits of a digital risk assessment are enormous. Not only does it save a tremendous amount of time, but it also makes it easier and more comprehensive. 

The indirect benefits minimise the administrative processes of record keeping and reporting, while assisting and contributing to compliance and audits. 

Lastly, data is the new oil. The data collected during the digital safety processes can be used to improve safety as well as other business areas such as productivity, efficiency, and cost savings. 

If your organisation still uses paper-based risk assessments (or any paper-based safety system), then it is time to upgrade and digitise! 

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