Health and safety regulations place an obligation on employers to manage risks. In order to do this effectively, risks must be systematically identified and appropriate controls implemented. Risk assessments achieve this when undertaken correctly but unfortunately they are often seen as simply a piece of unnecessary paperwork or are filled out to “tick a box” and then languish in a file.

Risk assessment is actually the whole process, not just the form, so how can effective risk assessments be achieved?

The Steps to Risk Assessment

It is generally accepted that there are several distinct steps to risk assessment:

  1. identify the hazards
  2. decide who might be harmed and how
  3. evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. record your significant findings
  5. review your assessment and update as necessary.

In addition to the above, it is important that those undertaking risk assessments are competent to do so.

1. Identify the hazards

A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm. First of all, you need to be aware of the hazards present within a workplace, considering both the obvious and non obvious e.g. a trip hazard such as a trailing cable is visible but a harmful substance in the atmosphere is not.

Hazards can be identified by methods such as walking around the area being assessed and speaking to employees. Not all hazards will cause harm, however if you are clear on what hazards are present you can ensure you undertake the next step effectively.

2. Decide who might be harmed and how

You need to consider those who may be affected by your activities. As well as employees, you need to take into account others who may be affected by work being carried out, such as members of the public and contractors. You should identify how these could be harmed by the hazards identified as part of step 1. Ensure particular consideration is given to those who would be classed as more at risk, such as elderly persons, young children, young people (16-17 years), pregnant women and nursing mothers and members of the public. For example, employees should be familiar with the emergency evacuation routes in their workplace but members of the public are unlikely to be and so would be more at risk of harm if an evacuation occurred.

3. Evaluate the risks an decide on precautions

Risk is the likelihood that a hazard will cause harm, coupled with the severity of the harm that would occur.

At this stage of your risk assessment, you need to consider:

  1. the level of risk posed by a hazard
  2. whether any current controls you have in place adequately control the risk
  3. whether further controls are needed in order to reduce the risk level so far as is reasonably practicable – a consideration of the reduction of risk versus the costs (money, time, effort, etc.) involved in controlling the risk.

For example, the trailing cable mentioned earlier may be in a walkway so the likelihood that sooner or later someone will trip over it is high. Depending on the surroundings, a trip could result in head injuries or fractures. You may therefore decide that the risk posed by the cable is quite high. Currently, there may be a cable cover in place to reduce the likelihood that someone would trip over, however could the cable be rerouted away from the walkway to further reduce the risk level?

4. Record your significant findings

The law requires that employers have written risk assessment records when they have 5 or more employees, although it is good practice for smaller companies to retain some records, too. There is no absolute set format that must be used to record your risk assessment and you do not need to write every single thing down, just the significant findings. It would be a good idea to include information such as:

  • the name of the risk assessor
  • the date and time of the assessment
  • the significant hazards and their associated risks and risk levels
  • current controls in place
  • any further controls which are deemed to be required
  • any monitoring arrangements to ensure the effectiveness of current and further controls.

In order to ensure risk assessments are effective, it is important to ensure that further controls identified are implemented. It is therefore necessary to have an action plan in place with timescales and assigned responsibilities for implementing the measures identified as required in the assessment and checks should be made to ensure that they have been put in place within the specified timescales.

5. Review your risk assessment and update as necessary

As conditions change on a regular basis, your risk assessments should be reviewed periodically to ensure they are still valid and controls are still effective. As well as having a set review period, risk assessments should be reviewed when any significant changes occur, e.g. a move of premises, a change in legislation. Review does not mean rewriting the entire assessment, but rather it entails checking over the current assessment to ensure the information is still current and, if not, making amendments as necessary. It is important to ensure that any changes are implemented and communicated to relevant personnel.

Further guidance

These are just some ideas to ensure your risk assessments are effective. The Health and Safety Executive provide a wealth of information to assist employers to undertake effective risk assessments, including guidance notes and templates. This can be accessed by clicking here.

Those who undertake risk assessments may benefit from training specifically in risk assessments or in general health and safety to ensure their competency. Why not see if one of our health and safety courses could assist?

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