Delving into dynamic risk assessment

30 Jan 2023 The Navigator

For navigators on the bridge, one of the most valuable tools in the moment is the ability to carry out a dynamic risk assessment. Captain Aly Elsayed AFNI, Senior Technical Adviser, The Nautical Institute, looks into how this works in practice, and why it is such an effective tool.

There are several different methods and tools to help us assess risk, each one suitable for different circumstances. These might include quantitative, generic, site-specific and dynamic risk assessments, among others. You can find out more about all of these in the the UK MCA's Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers (COWSP). For navigators on the bridge, one of the most valuable tools in the moment is the ability to carry out a dynamic risk assessment.

Knowing how and when to use the different methods of risk assessment is a fundamental part of a seafarer’s job. OOWs are especially encouraged to assess risks on the spot. Dynamic risk assessment is one of the methods used to assess developing and changing circumstances. It is also known as Personal Assessment of Risk. According to COSWP: “This is an informal assessment of day-to-day risks carried out as you are going about your work and life in general. It is a technique used to ensure that we perform even the most mundane of tasks without getting hurt. It is used to always maintain awareness of our environment and aid in the identification and control of immediate hazards as we go about our work. Use of personal assessment of risk should be developed and encouraged.”

Is it safe to continue?

Dynamic risk assessments are all about taking a few minutes to step back, look at the job to be done, consider what could go wrong and how that might happen. Finally, you must work out what steps you can personally take to avoid any incident, or any close quarter situation which could crop up.

As the work gets under way, you should monitor the worksite for any change in conditions that might alter the hazards and controls in place. If there is any doubt or concern, you must call for assistance, stop the work while you re-assess the controls and, if necessary, re-plan and re-assess the task.

Should you need to make significant changes to mitigate the risk, there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself:

  • is the original risk assessment still valid?
  • should I try to deal with the situation?
  • is it safe to continue?

Putting theory into practice

Let’s say an OOW is taking over the watch while the ship is facing rough weather. According to the ISM code, the company is required to provide a written risk assessment that considers the site location, environment and people doing the work before establishing safeguards against all identified risks. However, in a real-life situation, it’s not always possible for the OOW to prepare for every single potential risk, nor assess them simultaneously. Therefore, a dynamic risk assessment becomes crucial – one which can be carried out before or while an activity is underway. In this case, that means a series of actions to be undertaken as you take over the watch, and then as it continues.

You need to consider risks both internally and externally. For example, it's recommended that the OOW makes an early round inside the bridge and around it, as far as it’s safe to do. While doing this, always bear in mind things that could potentially go wrong and how. One example could be spotting loose items which might slide or fall about and cause distraction or harm. If you spot such an item, immediately consider the most appropriate steps to reduce the risks arising from this situation and take action to secure the items safely.

In addition, while you will be continuously monitoring the ship’s movement and bearing as the OOW, it’s good practice to also focus on whether the vessel’s course and speed have been adjusted as necessary (on the Master’s orders) to minimise any adverse effects of heavy weather. If not, are any changes required significant enough to warrant calling the Master, reassessing the situation with them and re-planning the task or route as necessary?


Awareness and skill

The two vital elements in conducting a dynamic risk analysis are awareness and skill. Together, they allow you to recognise when it is time to ask “Is it safe to continue?” and to decide that “We need to re-assess the task”. In the example of the rough weather situation given above, the OOW needs to continually monitor the force/ direction of the wind; the direction/height of the waves and the ship’s movements (heave, sway, surge, roll, pitch and yaw). They must then use this information to assess how the current situation will affect the safety of the personnel in different locations around the ship, such as the deck, engine room or galley. Any concerns or doubts about anyone’s safety must be reported to the Master immediately. The OOW should also alert the crew when the ship’s heading is going to change, and provide details about how that will affect its movements and any routine work, such as painting on one side.

Dynamic risk assessment is an informal method that helps OOWs stay vigilant. It supports the wider goal of maintaining situational awareness to ensure effective bridge operations and navigational safety. 

In addition, dynamic risk assessment can:

  • encourage the OOW to continually assess and reassess the situation in relation to bridge operations and voyage planning
  • help provide information in advance.
  • help identify potential or existing problems during the voyage
  • improve perception – giving a more accurate mental picture of reality
  • support the application of a systematic problem-solving method.