What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is nothing more than a careful examination of what, in your workplace, could cause harm to people so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.

The aim is to make sure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill.

Accidents and ill health can ruin lives, and affect your business if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase, or you have to go to court.

You are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace.

The important things you need to decide are whether a hazard is significant, and whether you have it covered by satisfactory precautions so that the risk is small.

You need to check this when you assess the risks.

For instance, electricity can kill but the risk of it doing so in an office environment is remote, provided that ‘live’ components are insulated and metal casings properly earthed.

The complexity of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control processes greatly depends on factors such as the size of the organization, the workplace situations within the organization and the nature, complexity and significance of the hazards. 

It is not the purpose of ISO 45001:2018 to force small organizations with very limited hazards to undertake complex hazard identification and risk assessment.

HSE Guidance promotes a 5-step approach to hazard identification and risk assessment

Step 1: Look for the hazards
Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done
Step 4: Record your findings
Step 5: Review your assessment and revise it if necessary.

Don’t be over complicated. In most firms in the commercial, service and light industrial sectors, the hazards are few and simple.

Checking them is common sense, but necessary. You probably already know whether, for example, you have machinery that could cause harm, or if there is an awkward entrance or stair where
someone could be hurt. 

If so, check that you have taken what reasonable precautions you can to avoid injury.

If you are a small firm and you are confident you understand what’s involved, you can do the assessment yourself (you don’t have to be a health and safety expert!). 

If you are a larger firm, you could ask a responsible employee, safety representative or safety officer to help

If you are not confident, get help from a competent source, but remember you are responsible for seeing it is adequately done.

Step 1 – Look for the hazards

If you are doing the assessment yourself, walk around your workplace and look afresh at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. 

Ignore the trivial and concentrate on significant hazards that could result in serious harm or affect several people.

Ask your employees or their representatives what they think. They may have noticed things that are not immediately obvious.

Manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets can also help you spot hazards and put risks in their true perspective. So can accident and ill-health records.

Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed, and how?

Young workers, trainees, new and expectant mothers, etc. who may be at particular risk 

Cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, etc. who may not be in the workplace all the time

Members of the public, or people you share your workplace with, if there is a chance they could be hurt by your activities.

Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more should be done

Consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not you need to do more to reduce the risk. 

Even after all precautions have been taken, some risk usually remains. What you have to decide for each significant hazard is whether this remaining is risk tolerable or intolerable.

First, ask yourself whether you have done all the things that the law says you have got to do. For example, there are legal requirements on prevention of access to dangerous parts of machinery. 

Then ask yourself whether generally accepted industry standards are in place. But don’t stop there – think for yourself, because the law also says that you must do what is reasonably practicable to keep your
workplace safe. 

Your real aim is to make all risks small by adding to your precautions as necessary.

If you find that something needs to be done, draw up an ‘action list’ and give priority to any risks that are intolerable and/or those, which could affect most people.

In taking action ask yourself:

Can I eliminate the hazard altogether?
If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

In controlling risks apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:

Try a less risky option
Prevent access to the hazard (e.g. by guarding)
Organize work to reduce exposure to the hazard
Issue personal protective equipment
Provide welfare facilities (e.g. washing facilities for removal of contamination and first aid).

Improving health and safety need not cost a lot. For instance, placing a mirror on a dangerous blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents, or putting some non-slip material on slippery steps, are inexpensive precautions considering the risks? And failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an
accident does happen.

But what if the work you do tends to vary a lot or you or your employees move from one site to another? Identify the hazards you can reasonably expect and assess the risks from them.

After that, if you spot any additional hazards when you get to a site, get information from others on site, and take what action seems necessary.

But what if you share a work place? Tell the other employers and self-employed people there about any risks your work could cause them, and what precautions you are taking. Also, think about the
risks to your own work force from those who share your workplace.

But what if you have already assessed some of the risks? If, for example, you use hazardous chemicals and you have already assessed the risks to health and the precautions you need to take under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), you can consider them ‘checked’ and move on.

Step 4 – Record your findings

If you have fewer than five employees you do not need to write anything down, though it is useful to keep a written record of what you have done. 
But if you employ five or more people you must record the significant findings of your assessment. This means writing down the significant hazards and conclusions. 

Examples might be ‘Electrical installations: insulation and earthing checked and found sound’ or ‘Fume from welding: local exhaust ventilation provided and regularly checked’. You must also tell your employees about your findings.

Suitable and sufficient – not perfect!

Risk assessments must be suitable and sufficient.

You need to be able to show that:
A proper check was made
You asked who might be affected
You dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved
Precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low.

Keep the written record for future reference or use; it can help you if an inspector asks what precautions you have taken, or if you become involved in any action for civil liability. 

It can also remind you to keep an eye on particular hazards and precautions. And it helps to show that you have done what the law requires.

To make things simpler, you can refer to other documents, such as manuals, the arrangements in your health and safety policy statement, company rules, manufacturers’ instructions, your health and safety procedures and your arrangements for general fire safety. 

These may already list hazards and precautions. You don’t need to repeat all that, and it is up to you whether you combine all the documents, or keep them separately.

Step 5 – Review your assessment and revise it if necessary

Sooner or later you will bring in new machines, substances and procedures which could lead to new hazards. If there is any significant change, add to the assessment to take account of the new hazard. 

Don’t amend your assessment for every trivial change, or still more, for each new job, but if a new job introduces significant new hazards of its own, you will want to consider them in their own right and do whatever you need to keep the risks down.

In any case, it is good practice to review your assessment from time to time to make sure that the precautions are still working effectively.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *