Carrying Out a Risk Assessment

When it comes to the safety of employees in the workplace, there are some things that can't be taken for granted and one of them, most certainly, is the adequate carrying out of a risk assessment.

Firstly, it helps you to comply with a number of legal requirements in terms of insurance as well as health and safety. These are imperative now in any modern office or workspace. Legislation aside, a risk assessment is also vital from a human standpoint as well. It's crucial as it enables businesses to pinpoint exactly where the dangers are in the workplace and minimise the level as much as is possible.

Obviously not all risk can be completely ruled out within a company but carrying out an assessment of this type can go a long way to achieving this. In construction, risk assessments can be particularly vital as the number of risks can be huge, and potentially life-threatening.

"The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but you are required to protect people as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’," the HSE says.

Many companies often find the execution of a risk assessment confusing and bewildering but it doesn't have to be a lengthy, complex process. Instead, when approached concisely and professionally, it can be done efficiently for the benefit of everyone involved in the business.

A risk assessment isn't a hard-and-fast document that is wide-reaching and applies rigidly to every business. While every business needs to carry one out, it is flexible enough to meet the needs of all industries and job types. Below are the steps you need to consider:

1. Identify Hazards

The first thing is to identify what can cause harm (including objects, materials and actions), how they can cause harm and what could happen if something goes wrong.

You should think about the tasks which will be carried out by your employees, and where. If your construction site requires staff to work from height, for example, there is the risk of falls, the risk of incidents accessing the platform, and the risk of things falling from the platform.

As well as identifying what you can, you should also talk to your employees. They may be aware of things which you aren't, such as positions in which they feel particularly vulnerable based on how they do the job.

If you're unsure how certain items or roles could be a hazard, always ensure you familiarise yourself with the official documentation which comes with the tools and equipment. They will list everything the user needs to know. This includes for power tools, safety equipment and chemicals such as paint, cleaning substances and oils.

Common hazards to look out for and consider include:

  • adverse weather
  • electricity
  • hazardous substances
  • lone working
  • machinery
  • manual handling
  • slips, trips and falls
  • vehicles and workplace transport
  • working at height
  • working in confined spaces
  • flammable materials and risks

2. Identify Who Could Be Harmed

You don't need to go into a huge amount of detail here. When listing the hazards, simply stating the groups affected is enough.

For instance, when talking about hazardous substances, simply stating 'employees or contractors' is enough. However, if there are particular people on site who deal with certain fields and areas, such as machine operators, you may wish to list job roles or names.

List 'the public' or 'site visitors' for any risks which involve off-site hazards or potential harm to the public. This may include incidents with vehicles using entry points, or risks which involve slips and falls when walking on designated paths.

Remember that those who are vulnerable (both on-site and as members of the public) may need adaptations. This can include anyone who is pregnant, disabled/has a long-term health condition, or young children. Any workers on-site who are migrant workers, temporary/contracted, or suffer from ill health may also need adaptations and may be at further risk.

3. Evaluate Precautions

You have identified the risks and hazards, and have identified who is at risk. Now, you must think about how likely it is to occur, what the potential outcomes of it are, and how to reduce the risk.

In terms of likelihood, a job which involves daily chemical use or working from height is high risk. If you only have vehicles on-site once a week for deliveries, and they are assigned to a designated area, the risks are low (but always note risks are still always present).

Outcomes refer to how incidents can impact those involved. Injuries could be permanent, or minimal. There may be a risk of death, either instantly or long-term (such as when working with asbestos, which can cause health issues which only emerge 20-30 years in the future and are often untreatable). Think about both what can happen, and the severity.

Reducing the risk involves potentially adapting how the job is done, but if not, how workers can be best prepared. Think about:

  • Elimination - redesign the job to cut out the need for working at height or using chemicals
  • Substitutions - using natural materials rather than chemicals
  • Protection - using barriers and other protective guards to separate workers from hazards, such as keeping pathways and roads separated
  • PPE - a vital part of any workplace, but personal protective equipment such as hard hats, eye and ear protection and work boots could reduce the risk of some injuries
  • Weather protection - work shouldn't be carried out in extreme weather, but the use of lighting, heating/cooling and shelter can help reduce the risks of everyday bad weather

4. Record Findings

Your findings should be recorded for several reasons:

  • It acts as proof that you carried them out
  • It can help you prioritise actions
  • You can also set deadlines for any changes necessary
  • It is easier for workers to see and add to the findings

Recordings can easily be passed into an enforcement authority in the event of investigation too. This may refer to a security breach, an accident or an injury occurring.

Remember that no risks can usually be eliminated 100%, but taking the steps to identify, remedy and reduce the risks is vital.

You can find templates for risk assessment documentation on the HSE website. They also have templates for fields and companies which may involve specific or heightened risks, such as car workshops, factories, and food preparation sites.

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