Civil Unrest: Implications For Risk Assessment


At the time of writing, it is a roughly five months since the outbreak of serious disturbances that caused damage to many businesses in towns and cities around England.

The British Safety Council has urged firms to take sensible precautions to keep workers safe during any such public disorder of this kind.

Many business premises were attacked, looted and in some circumstances set on fire: and the worst cases are still awaiting repair or replacement.

Duty of Care increases

Employers are being reminded of their duty of care towards employees. People in certain jobs are particularly vulnerable during unexpected events such as those that recently happened. But it is precisely because they are unexpected that risk assessments need to take into account what might at some point occur, and how to deal with it.

Alex Botha, BSC Chief Executive, said: “It is a wonder to me that no worker was seriously injured as shops, homes, vehicles, police stations and warehouses were attacked and in some cases set alight. Shift, lone, evening and night workers are of course of particular concern at times such as these but we need to consider the safety of all workers and risk can be mitigated by following sensible precautions.”

Risk Assessment Issues

Those responsible for creating risk assessments for any operation that might be at risk should ensure that they cover issues such as the following:

  • calm and factual communication to inform staff and avoid alarm
  • education about evacuation procedures
  • precautions to consider for lone and shift workers
  • clearing away potential weapons (external equipment, flammable liquids, rubble)
  • the actions to take if the premises are attacked

This form of assessment is potentially time-consuming and can be difficult to get right. For many hard-pressed firms it is better to call in trained, industry-aware Health and Safety consultants who can from experience cover all the angles and ensure that if trouble arises again, employees and employers are better able to react without panic and in a pre-planned way.

Like many retailers, the Carphone Warehouse had shops attacked. Their CEO Andrew Harrison said, “We can confirm that a number of our stores have been damaged in the riots and whilst this is very frustrating, thankfully none of our team members were present and therefore not hurt. We’ve taken all appropriate measures to first and foremost protect the safety and well-being of our people and where possible safeguard our stores and our ability to keep trading.”

Rebuilding Hazards

Many building firms of all sizes are coping with the aftermath and are carrying out tricky and potentially dangerous assessment and repair works. They need to pay great attention to construction safety issues. These include falls from height: guarding: asbestos assessment and removal: isolation of electrical circuits: and many others.

In larger rebuilding projects there will be a need for CDM co-ordinators to pull together the various contractors and the designer and to make sure that the project is properly specified and co-ordinated from a health and safety point of view.

Professional Help

McCormack Benson Health and Safety has a team of safety and CDM consultants that can be deployed around the country to assist firms to plan imminent reconstruction projects, and for the longer term, to identify and deal with the hazards to businesses and their staff that can stem from occasions when normal trading is interrupted by civil unrest or other illegal activities.