Carrying Out a Risk Assessment

When it comes to the safety of employees in the workplace, adequate carrying out of a risk assessment is essential in all industries.

A risk assessment is the process of identifying what could cause harm to people in your workplace, and then taking precautions to eliminate or reduce these risks.

Employers are required by law to protect employees, and others, from harm, as per the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They must carry out three main tasks

  • identify the risk
  • analyse the risk (how likely it is, what could be the outcome)
  • evaluate and take action to eliminate or control the risk

Risk assessments should be carried out by a competent person who has completed training allowing them to identify all risks. Speedy has Risk Assessment courses available.




Why Carry Out a Risk Assessment?

Firstly, risk assessments help 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. It's crucial as it enables businesses to pinpoint exactly where the dangers are in the workplace and minimise the level as much as possible.

Obviously, not all risks 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.


How to Carry Out a Risk Assessment

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.

There are 5 principles to a risk assessment:

  • Identify hazards
  • Assess risks
  • Control risks
  • Record findings
  • Review the controls


1. Identify Hazards

The first thing is to identify what can cause harm (including objects, materials and actions).

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. Assess Risks

Who could be harmed? How could they be harmed? How likely are the risks to occur, and what are the potential outcomes?

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 or has a long-term health condition. 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.

Think about how likely the risks are to happen. If lifting and handling occurs every day, and is carried out by several people, the risk is high. But the outcome of an injury could be less severe than that of working from height.


3. Control Risks

You have identified the risks and hazards, and have identified who is at risk. Now, you must think about 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.


5. Review the Controls

Controls must be reviewed periodically to ensure they're still applicable. Changes may be due to:

  • Changes in staff
  • Changes in equipment
  • Different substances being used
  • Process changes (due to law or company efficiency)

You should also review controls if workers have given feedback on risks, and if there have been any accidents.


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