1. Understanding and Analysing Tasks

Having a thorough understanding of any task in the workplace will identify the potential for human failure, causing an accident or near miss.  There are many learned books on “Task Analysis” techniques, but this guide is intended to be a general manual for managing health and safety in the workplace.  If your organisation is engaged in very hazardous operations such as mining or construction, it is probable that there will be specific guidance already in place for you to refer to.

This page is designed to give examples of the analysis of the most common work tasks.  If you require information about tasks which are not covered here, you should contact YourHS.space for further assistance.

Understanding Tasks

The “walk-through/talk-through” technique is a simple process consisting of an experienced worker demonstrating to the Competent Person (and Deputy) how a task is carried out.  Each step, no matter how minor (such as pressing a switch) or exerting (walking to the stationery cupboard to collect some ink for the printer) must be demonstrated.   Speaking to colleagues, collecting information – whatever the demonstrator does,  every step must be included.  The CP must write down each step and on completion of the walk-through/talk-through, discuss with the Deputy, relevant Managers.  They should identify the potential for human failure at each step and also anything which might make the task easier such as improved lighting, removal of any distractions etc.  The demonstration should be true to life, but if it would be safer to deliver without equipment running, it is acceptable to have it switched off.

At the end of the walk-through/talk-through, the CP will have a step-by-step list of all actions carried out and decisions made associated with a particular activity, know which are safety-critical and have an understanding of the factors which might affect human performance in carrying them out.

Often this technique is sufficient to understand and analyse a task and to take the necessary action to make the task as safe as possible.  But occasionally further analysis is needed.  For example, if a task is carried out infrequently (so those involved come to it “new” every time they start it), or if a task involves communication between several people or groups of people, or the task is very complex, then it may be necessary to engage an external consultant to carry out more detailed analysis.  The most common advanced technique is called Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA) which requires training to carry out.

Types of Task

Task safety is not restricted to operational matters.  All tasks must be considered, including for example repairing breakdowns, replacing parts in equipment, etc.

Interpreting the Information Gathered

The Competent Person must ensure that, once a task has been analysed and understood, a Safe Method Of Work (SMOW) is produced.  This can be used for training purposes and also as a point of reference for workers to refer to.  A SMOW must cross-reference relevant risk assessments and must be made available to all relevant workers at all times.

As with risk assessments, SMOWs must be regularly reviewed to ensure they remain current and relevant.  If an accident or near miss occurs, the investigation may well recommend that SMOWs are revised as a result.  If this happens, all relevant workers must be fully trained in the changes and the task should be monitored by the CP or an appropriate Manager to ensure the new way of working is being put into practice correctly.