Adopting a preventative approach is a legal requirement and is central to health and safety legislation. If you’re a manager, you need a good understanding of how to undertake a risk assessment. If you’re an employee, you should understand the process that has been conducted and what has been done to keep you safe. But what is a risk assessment?
No matter the type of organisation, or its size, there will be occupational hazards. These might be hazards caused by the equipment you use, from hazardous substances used in processes, hazards from the work you do or anything else that might harm you.
To ensure that you aren’t harmed, every employer in the UK has a duty to consider the types of harm that might happen, and take reasonable measures to prevent it. This is the essential risk assessment process.
Definition of Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is nothing more than a careful examination of anything in the workplace that might cause injury or harm. The process helps assess if there is a significant risk, and if there is, what safeguards or controls are required to lower the risk.
It’s a systematic method of:
- Looking at work activities
- Considering what could go wrong
- Deciding on suitable control measures to prevent harm
After a risk assessment has identified what controls are necessary, the next step is, obviously, to put those controls in place. This will ensure you’re able to eliminate, reduce or minimise the risks of any hazards.
The idea behind conducting risk assessments is that they should lead to practical improvements in the workplace. It shouldn’t be a bureaucratic form filling exercise with no observable outcome.
The Importance of Risk Assessments
You can’t underestimate the importance of risk assessments. They let employers know if they’re doing enough to protect their workers and others on their site. It also allows employers to show good business practice and can improve their business performance. A safe organisation is a successful one.
Law Surrounding Risk Assessments
We all assess risks in our every day lives. It’s why we’re taught to look both ways before crossing the street. However, there’s no law to say we have to do that. The difference at work is, you’re legally required to do risk assessments, to protect your employees and anyone else who may be affected by work activities.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 stipulates that:
“Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of
(a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work, and
(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking”
Benefits of Risk Assessment
Risk assessments can be used to:
- Recognise and control hazards in your workplace
- Create awareness amongst employees
- Educate workers on the procedures and guidelines in place to manage risks
- Reduce incidents in the workplace
- Set risk management standards, based on:
- Acceptable safe practices
- Legal requirements
Risk Assessments are not just useful for health and safety purposes. They also help with audits and passing legal safety measures. Manual or digital risk assessment forms help create a collection point for hazard findings that can be used to prove compliance if necessary.
They can also be helpful when allocating an organisation’s budget. They provide clear information of the equipment or measures that need to be purchased or added to the budget to control or eliminate hazards.
Legislation and Approved Codes of Practice do not lay down a single prescribed way of undertaking a risk assessment. But there’s a common series of steps you must follow for most scenarios.
Steps of Risk Assessment
There are five steps to a risk assessment. Not every risk assessment will be the same, as they can differ depending on the situation. But here are the general steps you can use when carrying out an assessment.
1. Identify the Hazards
The first step of risk assessment is to identify the hazards. Identifying the range of hazards is very important. If you don’t identify a problem, you’ve got no chance of fixing it and controlling it. So, it’s important to be very organised and systematic when identifying hazards.
You can identify hazards by:
- Making workplace observations to actually see what goes on
- Discussions with the staff who perform the tasks
- Researching hazards that are a known issue in your organisation’s sector or industry
2. Estimate the Risk
An important principle to remember is that we’re not trying to get rid of all risk. Risk is an inevitable part of life. Risk assessments are aimed at identifying significant risk, and if a significant risk is present, what precautions are necessary to lower the risk?
One way to estimate risk is to use what’s called a 5 x 5 matrix, which compares the two aspects of risk.
Across the bottom we have likelihood or probability on a scale of one to five and up the side we have consequences, again on a scale of one to five.
Multiplying the two scores will help generate a semi-quantitative score for the risk. This is not a hard and fast number. It’s an estimate that gives you a structure to help guide you. It’s a framework to help decide on where a precaution is needed and how urgently it’s needed.
3. Evaluate the Risk
The third step of risk assessment is to evaluate the risk. You can also use the above risk matrix to do this.
A score of 1 to 4 – the risk would be deemed as acceptable and no further action is required. You just need to make sure that any existing controls are maintained.
A score of 5 to 9 – the risk is adequate and you can look to improve it if you can at the next review.
A score of 10 to 16 – the risk is considered to be tolerable but you need to look to improve it within a specified time period; so, it’s something you are looking to try and improve and within a reasonable period of time.
Finally, if the score is 17 to 25 – then the risk is considered to be unacceptable. You need to reduce the risk so immediately stop what you’re doing!
4. Record Your Findings
The fourth step of risk assessment is to record your findings. You can record your findings on a risk assessment form.
On this form you’ll input:
- The hazards
- Who the hazard might harm
- How people could be harmed
- Details of any existing risk controls
- The risk rating you estimated with the risk matrix we’ve discussed
- Any additional controls you feel are necessary
- Risk ratings based on the additional controls, so naturally, these should be lower
- An action plan of who will implement the risk controls and when they will do it
Once this is completed it’s important to then do it! And by that we mean you have actually got to go and implement the findings. This is not a bureaucratic form filling exercise, it should be a practical exercise.
5. Review Your Findings
The fifth and final step is to review and update your assessment. Why? Because things change and so should your risk assessment. It shouldn’t be a one-off exercise. There’s no set review period for risk assessment, it will vary depending on circumstances. Usually, you should review your risk assessment annually or as soon as there is any significant change in the activity or workplace to which it relates.
Risk Assessment Training with Human Focus
A safe workforce is a successful and happy workforce. Risk assessments play a vital role in ensuring all hazards throughout your organisation are managed. There are different types of risk assessment though, from fire safety to working at height.
If your job role requires you to ensure risk assessments are carried out, you can gain an understanding of them with this Human Focus Risk Assessment training course. Human Focus also have risk assessment courses that cover many industries and situations. Employees benefit from risk assessment training because it teaches them to always be on the lookout for hazards and to report them before anyone gets injured.