Dutch Risk Assessment tools
Anita Venema, TNO
The ‘Risico- Inventarisatie- en Evaluatie-instrumenten’ is the name for the Dutch risk assessment (RA) tools. A RA tool can be used to perform a risk assessment including an evaluation of the identified risks.
These tools were among the first online risk assessment tools developed in Europe. The Dutch RA tools and the web application system to generate RA tools has inspired EU-OSHA to use the Dutch model as a basis for developing the Online Interactive Risk Assessment (OiRA).
OiRA is a European web application, consisting of a tools generator and interface. OiRA helps Sectoral Social Partners (employers' and employees' organisations) and National Authorities (Ministries, Labour Inspectorates, OSH institutes, etc.) to produce sector-specific risk assessment tools (RA tools) targeting small businesses.
The overall purpose of the Dutch digital RA tools as they stand today is to ensure that SMEs primarily, but micro enterprises in particular, comply with the legal obligations to execute a risk assessment and to reduce the administrative and financial burden on them in doing so. Other companies may use the tool, but they do not get the ‘bonuses’ that small companies get. Furthermore the aim is to improve their level of health and safety; to improve general awareness about the existence of the RA tools and finally to stimulate the development by the social partners of new sector-specific RA tools.
Nowadays 182 sector-specific RA tools are available online on the website (www.rie.nl), either via a direct link or if the specific tool is not digital there is at least the contact details of the relevant sector organisation from which the paper-based risk assessment tool can be obtained. Sixty-nine of the RA tools are generated with the OiRA tool generator.
The sector-specific digital RA tools are easy to use and the business owner only needs to answer questions that are really relevant to his/her particular field. The intention was that you should be able to complete the RA including the action plan, within 2 hours. Sometimes it is less, sometimes it takes more time, depending on the content of the tool. Sector-specific RA tools also make it easier to provide detailed solutions for business, as standard solutions to resolve a potential risk are available in the RA tool (or additional information is available, for instance through hyperlinks).
In order to have an adequate understanding of the context in which digital risk assessment (RA) was developed in the Netherlands, it is necessary to elaborate on the Dutch situation. A main characteristic of Dutch OSH policy is the so-called ‘polder model’, according to which Government and social partners share responsibility for OSH, yet have different roles. In this context, the role of the Government is primarily to:
- develop legislation/regulation including levels of OSH protection;
- provide relevant information to social partners, facilitate and support their actions;
- enforce legislation (e.g. through the labour inspectorate).
The role of social partners is primarily to contribute to the development of means and tools to facilitate the implementation of OSH-related legislation and policy. At the same time, Government and social partners are involved in sustaining each other in their respective roles by means of consultation and cooperation on several levels. The ‘polder model’ applies to Dutch industrial relations as a whole.
The legislation stipulating the use of risk assessment is the Dutch Working Conditions Act (WCA, Arbeidsomstandighedenwet), according to which all employers must record the risks faced by their employees in their health and safety policy, as well as develop a plan for how they intend to reduce these risks. Since 1994, when the EU Framework Directive to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers was transposed into Dutch law, it has been obligatory for all employers who have paid labour working for more than 40 hours a week to carry out a Risk Inventory and Evaluation (RI&E).
First RI&E tool
The initial Dutch risk assessment questionnaire consisted of paper-based lists of generic health and safety related questions to be answered by the employer: (Have any accidents ever occurred in the company? What could go wrong that might cause failure to machinery? What is the risk of this happening? How could this risk be limited?). Subsequently, a plan had to be developed in consultation with the employees in which the business owner outlined how and when he intended to deal with the identified risks. However, this approach presented a number of problems, especially to the smaller businesses. In their perception risk assessment meant:
- loss of time (in comparison to bigger companies, small companies felt they spent too much time on filling in the RA questionnaire and making an action plan);
- money (less time spent on their core business meant loss of money, moreover at the time the RA and action plan had to be checked by a certified, preventive OSH service – which costs money, and furthermore alienated the employer from the process);
- paperwork (administrative burden);
- complexity (making an RA required a lot of expertise).
A different approach was therefore needed, especially for the smaller SMEs, which should lessen their administrative burden by being less time consuming and more practical and business/sector oriented. It should also be easily understood, so that the employer or company could fill in the questionnaire themselves which would in turn lower the costs. Faced with this challenge, Government and the employers organisation for SMEs, MKB Nederland , decided to embark upon a joint venture to reduce the burden on small companies. The result was the so-called ‘MKB Arbo Activiteitenprogramma 2003-2005’ (‘SME occupational safety and health programme’), a 3-year programme developed in close cooperation between MKB-Nederland and the Government. Its main aim was to develop a series of measures and tools to boost compliance with the WCA and reduce the complications experienced by small businesses. One of the identified needs of SMEs was the development of a digital risk assessment tool.
Having formulated the conditions the new tool had to meet, MKB-Nederland and the Government went into cooperation with the research organisation TNO for its development. The main requirements of the tool were:
- designed specifically for companies with less than 25 employees;
- digital and modular (only the relevant parts that apply to a specific company should be used);
- simplicity / do it yourself option;
- less paperwork and less cost.
This first digital risk assessment tool, a generic tool, was launched in spring 2004. The tool allowed businesses to download the RI&E questionnaire and fill it in offline. The choice of a generic approach served two purposes. First, it allowed sectors without any RA tools to have access to a generic tool. Secondly, it could be used as a basis for sectors to develop their own sector-specific RI&E instrument, providing them with the structure, content and technique. In the development phase, research was carried out to determine how SMEs think and act when it comes to risk assessment. The draft tool was presented to the Labour Inspectorate (part of Government) for their comments. Two different OSH services were asked to test it on some of their SME clients. These tests proved that the tool was adequate, yet they testified that there was a need for transformation of the generic tool to a more sector-specific approach, focussed on the more important risks and possible solutions in specific sectors. As part of the MKB Arbo Activiteitenprogramma website was also developed which gave access to the generic tool. The current website was developed in 2003 by the Arbo Platform Nederland (OSH Platform of the Netherlands).
Sector-specific RI&E Tools
It did not take long before the need emerged for a fine-tuning of the original tool. On the basis of their positive experience with the generic tool, several sectors voiced the need for the instrument to be further developed to take account of their specific business practices and argued that the tool would be used more if it were tailored to specific sectors. To facilitate this process the TNO was again commissioned to help provide technical support to sector organisations that wanted to develop their own sector-specific, digital RI&E tool. Acknowledging the problems faced by the smaller businesses, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment decided to co-fund the development such sector-specific versions and in 2004 tailor-made RA tools for 20 different sectors were launched. The sectors were chosen in conjunction with MKB-Nederland and according to the needs and willingness of the different sectors to participate. In a series of focus groups with SMEs and OSH experts hired by the sector organisations, the most important risks to be addressed by SMEs in each of the different sectors were identified. Subsequently, the focus groups also assessed and approved the test version of the sector tools once they had been developed. The following figure illustrates the relationship between the initial MKB RI&E tool and the subsequent 20 sector-related RI&E instruments:
In order to support the implementation of the generic and sector specific tools in the Netherlands, two different strategies were developed. Initially, the provision of support and a helpdesk for the generic tool (and for some of the sectoral tools of its member organisations) was located at MKB-Nederland. However, once the 20 sector-specific tools had been developed, a further step was made to bring the unions on board. In this tripartite setting – in line with the ‘polder model’ (Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making) – more than 150 additional tools were designed based on the generic one. All of these sector tools focus at least on the most important risks of specific sectors and were developed with the involvement of TNO (knowledge institute for businesses, government bodies and social organisations) and the OSH preventive services.
RA support point
In 2007, after the OSH platform closed down, a new bipartite support function was put in place in the form of the current ‘Steunpunt RI&E-Instrumenten’ (RA Support Point), responsible for the management of the RI&E system. The main partners in the Support Point are the key employers’ and employees’ organisations, with the Ministry of Social Affairs acting as an observer. TNO still takes care of the day-to-day running of the support function. Their main task is to assess whether the developed sector risk assessment satisfies the criteria for an exemption of the expert test. The other key role of the RI&E Support Point is to guarantee the availability of RA tools, to raise awareness among potential users and to communicate with businesses and their organisations in order to stimulate the use of the tools.
An important element in this process has been the active involvement of the social partner organisations, especially those at sector level, in promoting the RA tools to their members. However, the collaboration of other partners such as insurance companies, accountancy firms and other advisers to small businesses has also been sought. One challenge in this context has been the difficulty for social partners in reaching the smallest companies with between 1-9 employees, as very few of the employees in these companies are members of a trade union.
Given the importance attached to promoting the RA tools in order to get companies to implement them, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment committed approximately €250,000 a year in communication and implementation activities over 2011-2012. The communication campaign consisted of a number of workshops with SMEs and road shows at OSH events, as well as the production of brochures and articles to reach the relevant target audience. In 2011/12 there was also a specific promotional campaign to raise awareness about the existence of the tools and the legal obligation to perform a risk assessment.
A special website was set-up by the RA support point. The RI&E website (www.rie.nl) is organised in a relatively straightforward manner, providing an alphabetic overview of the different tools by sector with a specific page for each sector. Also included is a link to the tool and to the relevant sector organisation as well as information on the level of acknowledgement of the tool by the social partners. Furthermore, there is specific advice on how to carry out a risk assessment geared to the two main target groups: employers and employees in companies (micro level) and sectoral business organisations (meso level). The process of carrying out a risk assessment is divided into four different phases in order to make it more manageable for those involved. The steps differ depending on the target group:
- For companies: (i) identification of risks; (ii) evaluation of risks; (iii) action plan; and (iv) update;
- For sector organisations: (i) development of sector specific tool; (ii) acknowledgement; (iii) implementation; and (iv) maintenance.
Finally, the website provides links to frequently asked questions and access to an online Help Desk run by the RI&E Support Point (TNO) that provides technical assistance to developers and users. Information about risk assessment is increasingly provided via social media. Regular updates and issues are provided via the twitter and linkedIn account of the RA support center. Furthermore there is now the possibility of having your questions answered via twitter at certain set times.
The need for developing tailor-made sector-specific tools was strongly promoted both by social partners and Government and during the period between 2004 and 2010, a large number of sectors were added. Apart from active promotion, the positive experiences of other sectors who had already developed a RI&E tool probably also had a role to play. During the same time period (2004/2005), the digital system was redeveloped with an on-line and an off-line version of the tool reflecting to the ICT-developments in SMEs.
Over the years, a number of further developments have taken place including regular updates of the various sector-specific tools. One important development in this period was a change of the Dutch WCA legislation, negotiated by the social partners’ through their Collective Labour Agreement, to the effect that small companies with less than 25 employees are no longer required to engage the services of an OSH service to have their RA reviewed and approved (the exemption took effect in July 2005). Instead, they can comply with the OSH legislation by completing a questionnaire that has been approved by the employers and workers organisations in the relevant sector. This has provided a relatively easy and inexpensive way for the smallest companies of fulfilling the risk assessment requirement. It is also a strong incentive to participate in the RA exercise.
Another significant step was the development in 2010 of the ‘next generation RI&E tools’. The most important element here was the use of the OiRA technology and source code and the migration of the RI&E data to the Agency’s tool, as well as some import of OiRA data, with the overall objective of letting the Agency and other EU countries benefit from the developments and improvements that had already taken place on the Dutch RA instruments.
Important steps in developments in the Netherlands were and now are:
- Use of OiRA technology and migration of the Dutch tools into this system;
- Change of the WCA legislation;
- Communication and Implementation Plan 2011-2012 of the RI&E Support Point;
- Communication in 2011 of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the RI&E Support Point to promote the legislative changes.
Currently, 182 different sectors have developed their own risk assessment tool which are directly (or indirectly) available on the RI&E website. Not all of them are digital yet but so far there are 120 approved digital RI&E tools. Sixty-nine instruments are made with the Dutch version of the OiRA tool generator (36 approved).
The development of the generic RA tool took around one year. Further fine-tuning in connection with the subsequent 20 sector-specific tools took another year. The full process to get from a generic paper-based version of RA to a situation where more than 100 sectors are covered by an online tailor-made RA tool has taken some 6 years at least. Given that other countries will now have the possibility to benefit from the technical developments created by the Dutch and by EU-OSHA, the process is likely to be significantly faster elsewhere.
It has not been possible to get an estimate of the total expenditure on the Dutch RA tool as so many different stakeholders have contributed to the development. However, the funding provided by government for the development of the initial MKB RI&E tool, under the SME Activity Programme 2003-2005, was about €80,000 and the co-funding for the development of the 20 sector instruments was approximately €150,000. In order to understand the way in which the different phases of the RI&E instruments relate to each other, the following figure will provide a clearer overview:
The social partners have a key role in the process of ‘acknowledging’ or endorsing a sector-specific RA tool. Companies with a maximum of 25 employees who use a RA tool with this mark from their specific sector do not need to approve their RA. Acknowledged RA’s are:
- Made by organisations of employers and employees (trade-unions) in the sector;
- reviewed by a certified OSH expert;
- Registered at the RA support center.
For the purpose of endorsement a statement is sent to the employers’ organisation, which has to be signed by both the employers representative and an unions representative. After sending it to the Support Point RA the logo becomes available on the website www.rie.nl. An RA tool can be endorsed for a maximum of 3 years. Both risks and their solutions are likely to evolve over time and to ensure that the RA tools maintain a ‘state of the art’ status, they need regularly updating. An administrative system has been put in place for that purpose. Three months before the endorsement ends the partners will receive a letter informing them that the RA tool has to be updated. If they do not manage to do so within the timeframe, the endorsement logo will be removed.
Information and material for sectors and companies are disseminated via the website and via digital newsletters, twitter, linkedIn, meetings/ conferences, magazines and workshops. There is a ‘Guide for sector organisations’ and recently a new brochure has been developed for companies: ‘A step by step guide for entrepreneurs who don’t want to be exposed to risks’. Sector organisations can order the brochure with their own logo to disseminate in their sector. In 2012 the brochure was either checked or downloaded 38.602 times from www.rie.nl. Furthermore 5.000 brochures were printed, partly by sectors and one sector is planning to make a sector specific brochure based on the general version.
Furthermore there is a short movie available in which the RI&E concept is explained.
Several campaigns were used to raise extra awareness of the Dutch RA tools:
- EU-OSHA European campaign 2008-2009: An important element in promoting RA tools was the contribution made by the EU-OSHA European campaign 2008-2009 on risk assessment. The main aim of this two-year campaign was to convey the message that risk assessment is not necessarily complicated or bureaucratic and that once in place it is likely to either prevent or control the occurrence of risks. Another aim of the campaign was to promote an integrated management approach to risk assessment taking account the different steps involved, which is the same approach the Dutch system uses. This European campaign contributed considerably to the general awareness of the public about the advantages of risk assessment and the existence of the Dutch RA tools.
- National Campaign ‘Check je werkplek’ (Check your work place): In addition to earlier initiatives, the RA Support Point, started a new national campaign at the end of 2011. The main target group was small companies in the HORECA and the retail sector. This group is particularly difficult to reach because they do not often make use of the communication channels that larger companies apply such as information from sector organisations and professional journals in the field of OSH and HRM. The percentage of companies who perform a risk assessment is relatively low in these sectors.
The campaign was based on the principle that the business owner is triggered by topics that are relevant for the continuity of the business. The message of the campaign was: ‘check the workplace regularly to prevent accidents and sickness absenteeism’. A new appealing and accessible website (checkjewerkplek.nl) was launched. Here the focus was on specific topics: fire prevention, aggression and violence, physical heavy work, cuts and hygiene. Terms like ‘risk assessment’ and ‘OSH’ were avoided. During the campaign the five themes were introduced on the website and promoted via the media. Hygiene, the fifth and last was introduced in November 2012. A famous hygiene and quality controller, known from the television spoke about his experiences.
The campaign was supported by employers’ organisations (Royal Association MKB-Nederland representing the interests of SMEs), employees’ organisations (FNV, CNV, MHP), the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, sector organisations (Hoofd bedrijfschap Detailhandel, bedrijfsschap horeca en catering) and the Chamber of Commerce.
The campaign offered practical instruments for employers and consultants via their website as well as various activities. Furthermore, the campaign avoided explicit prescriptive strategies such as telling the employer exactly what to do. Instead, they made use of implicit strategies for example with the use of ‘real live stories’ told by reliable known people. Another implicit strategy was to change and add things in the technical or social environment of the businesses in order to foster desired behaviour. In line with this strategy the ‘Risk Index’ (Risico Wijzer) was introduced. This is a prevention and emergency card in one. With a set of stickers the risky spots at the workplace can be marked. The card is visible at the workplace, fast to fill in, and reduces the time of to teaching new employees about risks. The tools are explained with a short video. Other videos show interviews with business owners. For example an owner of a fish shop.
In addition an interactive knowledge quiz (powerpoint presentation) was developed to transfer knowledge towards employers and employees about risk assessment. This quiz was used at road shows and contained:
- Facts about a number of accidents/deaths due to unsafe and unhealthy work in the country;
- Facts about legislation around the risk assessment;
- Questions about risks at the workplace;
- Stories and tips from companies;
- Check of activities within the company (fire prevention, talking about risks with employees).
The quiz is illustrated with pictures and movies. The quiz ends with a winner in the company. The number of visitors to the campaign website is still increasing over time. An extra effect is that the number of visitors to the website providing the risk assessments, www.rie.nl, is increasing as well as the number of completed risk assessments.
In 2014 the so called ‘RIE-dee’ (RA-idea) campaign started. Oranisations in the OSH field were asked to come up with a creative idea to foster the knowledge and implementation of the RA-tool among SME’s. The five winners won an amount of money to turn their idea into practice. For more information please see here and here in Dutch.
In order to facilitate the use of the new Dutch RA tools, occasional training courses for companies on how to use the sector-based ones were organised by the RA support point and individual sector organisations with support from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
In 2012 the RA support point together with a network organisation for OSH services and consultants (De Goede Praktijk), organised 10 half day workshops for companies in the HORECA and retail sectors. During half a day a group of companies (between 6 and 12) filled in the risk assessment under the guidance of a professional. The workshops were free and promoted via the sector organisations. One hundred companies were given the opportunity to fulfill their legal responsibilities regarding risk assessment in a half day. The sector involved were stimulated to spread the message (it is not as difficult and time consuming as you might think) to their members through enthusiastic testimonials of participating companies.
In 2014 one workshop was organised for thirty representatives of sector organisations from several sectors. The aim was to exchange knowledge about their experiences with the RA-tool. Topics were the OSH-legislation, the development and maintenance of a RA-tool, the link with OSH catalogues and communication towards companies (see for more information in Dutch).
In a 2006 evaluation of the SME OSH programme in which the initial 20 sector-specific tools were developed, it was concluded that:
- the RA tools developed in the SME OSH Programme are well known by
- the tools are used by these organisations; and they are positive about the RA tools.
In order to obtain information on the usage of and satisfaction with the RA tools, the Support Point organised a survey among RI&E users in 2010. This also contained the results from the TNO’s two-yearly WEA survey (Werkgevers Enquête Arbeid) from 2008/2009 of the number of SMEs that have prepared a risk assessment and an action plan. A total of 5,387 companies responded to this questionnaire. As the results below indicate, there is still a very large group of the smallest companies that have not yet developed a RA in spite of the existence of the online facilities to do so:
As can be seen, according to the WEA survey, the proportion of responding SMEs that have undertaken a full risk assessment, including an action plan, is in the range 26% to 86%. If it is assumed that the group of 5,387 respondents is representative of the total population of 800,000 companies in the Netherlands, a straight average of 60% would suggest that some 480,000 of all Dutch firms have completed a risk assessment. Relating this directly to the RA tool is difficult. However, even if only half the 250,000 downloads so far led to RAs being completed, this would still mean that around a quarter of the completed RA could be attributed to the tool. Further research would be needed to verify this estimate and to establish the extent of additionality, i.e. the proportion of SMEs that would only have undertaken an RA because of the availability of the digital RA tool. In 2014 the website rie.nl had more than 139.000 visitors and more than 800.000 page views. The number of downloads of the Dutch OiRA tools is on average 3.000 per month of which 50% actually prepares an Action Plan.