An effective risk assessment can help ensure you meet your duties as an employer under health and safety laws.
An employer may delegate the task of risk assessment to a competent individual or third party, but they ultimately have a legal responsibility for both the risk assessment and the health and safety relating to their workplace.
A risk assessment should be completed on a regular basis to ensure ongoing H&S risk management as well as before the commencement of any work which carries a resulting risk of injury or ill health.
A ‘risk’ is the possibility that someone could be harmed as a result of your work, including an estimation of whether that risk is high or low and how serious the resulting harm could be. A ‘hazard’ is what might cause that harm.
Your risk assessment should take into account anyone who could be harmed as a result of your work. Such people might be:
- specific workers who could be at greater risk such as expectant mothers
- workers who are not generally on site
- visitors to your workplace
- general members of the public
How to carry out a risk assessment
The Health and Safety Executive regulate and enforce health and safety in the workplace in the UK. They do this by:
- providing information and guidance
- raising awareness in workplaces
- giving permission for certain hazardous work activities
- providing licences for work that would otherwise be unlawful
- carrying out inspections and investigations
- taking action to enforce Health and Safety laws, including the penalisation of those who break these laws
The procedure for carrying out a risk assessment has 5 stages:
- Identify the hazards.
- Identify who might be harmed and how.
- Evaluate the risks and take action.
- Record your findings.
- Review your risk assessment on a regular basis.
Identify the hazards
To identify the hazards in your workplace, the easiest way to start is by walking around your workplace.
Think of all the processes, substances and activities that occur and are present in that workplace and how they could present a hazard. For example, there could be a chemical in your workplace that may potentially cause health problems if used without protective clothing, or perhaps your employees are required to work up ladders and are at risk of falling.
Other ways to identify hazards include, but are not limited to:
- Manufacturers’ instructions – are items being used correctly?
- Chemical data sheets – these may list related hazards.
- Accident and ill-health records – is there a repeating pattern or other details that could point to a hazard?
- Non-routine activities or processes – just because an activity only takes place occasionally doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be subject to risk assessment.
- Is there anything in your workplace that could cause health issues that are not immediately apparent but build up over time and may present themselves at a later stage, such as high levels of noise?
The type of hazards you find will vary depending on the kind of work your business is involved in.
Identify who might be harmed and how
Working from your list of hazards, identify:
- Who might be affected by each hazard? This could be an employee but equally it could be a visitor to your workplace. You don’t need to list individuals by name. Instead, identify the kind of people who might be affected, such as in the case of that chemical where the hazard could affect workers handling the chemical but also warehouse staff who work where the chemical is stored.
- How might those hazards affect your employees or other individuals who visit your workplace or are otherwise affected by your work? Would this be an injury or an illness?
Talk to your employees about the hazards too. For instance, the employees who handle the chemical may have information on the effects of a chemical spill that you aren’t aware of.
Evaluate the risks and take action
Having identified any hazards, you must now decide on the resulting risks. This means that you evaluate the likelihood of the risk. What is the possibility of this happening? High or low?
You must do all that you can to be aware of any risks in your workplace and to manage those risks. That may mean that you make changes to eliminate a risk but what is more likely is that there are procedures and safeguards that can be put in place to reduce any resulting harm.
For example, in high noise environments, you could provide clothing that protects the employees’ hearing. Carpeting a slippy stone staircase could reduce the likelihood of trips and falls.
Record your findings
Make a record of what you have discovered so far:
- who might be harmed by the hazards
- how they might be harmed by the hazards
- what action you have taken to manage those risks
If you have less than 5 employees, you are not required to keep a record, but it is always useful to have an up to date risk assessment in place for your own information.
Your record should show that you have checked your workplace for hazards, spoken to all affected individuals, taken action, managed the risks and minimised them as much as possible, and involved your workforce in the process.
Review your risk assessment on a regular basis
Once you have made your risk assessment, it is recommended that you review it on a regular basis to ensure that it is still valid in managing the health and safety in your workplace.
It may be that you bring in new equipment or alter your work procedures. Perhaps a member of staff falls pregnant and can no longer work with certain substances. There will always be some form of change in your workplace that requires a fresh risk assessment to be made.
Speak to your employees. Have they noticed any new or altered hazards in the workplace?
Even if you feel that nothing has changed, you are still required by law to manage health and safety in your workplace so maintaining an up to date risk assessment system is in your best interests to avoid penalties from the Health and Safety Executive.
While it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure health and safety in the workplace, employees have certain responsibilities too:
- to maintain their own health and safety and that of others at work
- to co-operate with you in implementing health and safety at work
- to follow instructions and training from you relating to health and safety at work
- to inform you of anything at work that could present a risk
- to inform you of any failings in health and safety at work
How legal advice could help
To avoid intervention by the Health and Safety Executive and the resulting penalty fee, plus the possibility of legal action from any employee or individual harmed as a result of your work, take specialist legal advice to ensure your business operates within health and safety law.