Why Are Risk Assessments Important?

why are risk assessments important

Why are risk assessments important? The simple answer is they’re required by law.

Risk assessments are central to UK health and safety legislation. Employers and the self-employed are obligated to complete them for their work and workplace.

But focusing exclusively on compliance can harm the risk assessment process. It can also stop you from realising the broader benefits of effective health and safety management.

So, we’ve put together a simple guide that explains four big reasons why risk assessments are a must for your organisation. It also explains how small business owners and the self-employed can start conducting their own assessments.

What is a Risk Assessment?

Risk assessment is the process of evaluating what could harm people in your workplace. From this analysis, you can plan how to prevent this harm from happening.  

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), all employers must prevent their work activities from harming employees, customers or members of the public. This duty of care applies to every workplace across the UK, regardless of size or industry.

Risk assessments are necessary to comply with the HSWA, a fact reinforced by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These regulations make it a minimum requirement for employers to:

  • Identify workplace hazards (i.e., what might cause illness or injury)
  • Decide the likelihood a hazard will cause harm and how serious that harm will be (the risk)
  • Eliminate the hazard or reduce risk to an acceptable level

The minimum requirements set out by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 match the five steps to the risk assessment process. These steps are:

  1. Identify potential hazards – Examine the work environment for anything that could potentially cause harm
  2. Assess the risks – Determine the likelihood and severity of harm to decide the risk level
  3. Implement control measures – Strive to eliminate risks entirely. Where elimination is not possible, control measures must be put in place to manage the risks
  4. Record your findings – Document hazards, the possible victims and the control measures implemented. (This step is not mandatory for businesses with fewer than five employees.)
  5. Review the risk assessment – Regular reviews ensure the effectiveness of the control measures and highlight when adjustments are necessary

These steps provide a consistent and reliable framework for managing workplace risks. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces workplace health and safety, always wants to see this five-step process followed.

What is a Risk Assessment

What Does Risk Control Mean?

Despite your best efforts, the HSE acknowledges that an utterly risk-free environment is impossible. It also appreciates that attempting to achieve this environment would be unworkable for a business.

Instead, the HSE only expects your assessments to cover foreseeable risks. These foreseeable risks should ideally be eliminated, as it’s the most reliable way to prevent harm.

Eliminating risks requires eliminating the hazard. Eliminating hazards often requires fundamental changes to machinery or procedures, which can be unworkable. So, where elimination is unworkable, you must reduce risk to a ‘reasonably practicable’ level.

Reasonably practicable means balancing the level of a risk against the effort, time, and cost needed to control it. This balance ensures that the measures taken are proportionate to the risks involved while still being maintainable.

For further guidance on risk management, you can see the HSE’s website.

Risk Assessment Training

Our Risk Assessment Training course provides vital information on recognising and controlling hazards that can cause harm. Risk assessment is the cornerstone of effective health and safety, helping you fulfil your duty of care to protect individuals who might be harmed by your work activities.

Why Are Risk Assessments Important? Four Key Reasons

Conducting a risk assessment ensures compliance. It also protects your employees, your reputation and your bottom line.

Below, you’ll find four key reasons that answer the question, “Why are risk assessments important?”

1: Prevent Harm

Outside of compliance, preventing harm is the most obvious reason risk assessments are essential.

Risk assessments let you identify potential hazards, evaluate risk levels and implement control measures. Control measures that could potentially prevent fatalities or life-changing injuries.

Even employees in relatively safe industries, such as education, still face risks at work. Between 2020 and 2023, the HSE recorded 36,000 non-fatal injuries in the education sector. And this is in addition to the 174,000 cases of work-related ill health.

So, even a ‘safe’ workplace needs a risk assessment. Otherwise, your employees are in harm’s way and your operations face considerable disruption.

2: Protect Profitability

Beyond the human cost, even minor or fully recoverable injuries can significantly affect a business’s operations and potential for profitability.

Poor risk management inevitably leads to accidents and subsequent costs. These include direct costs like compensation payments for injuries, as well as indirect costs such as operational downtime, increased insurance premiums and the time and resources spent on investigating incidents.

This disruption can also affect customer satisfaction and lead to loss of business and revenue.

Risk assessments are critical in preventing these outcomes. They help protect employees and profitability by ensuring operations continue without the interruptions and costs that accidents cause.

And risk assessment can protect against one significant cost in particular.

3: Reduce Liability

Even the HSE acknowledges that no work environment is 100% safe. But the regulator may investigate in the unfortunate event of a severe workplace accident.

If they find evidence of negligence, there are significant financial and legal penalties. Penalties that include prosecution for duty holders.

When facing an HSE investigation, risk assessments can be vital in defending against claims of negligence. They prove compliance with health and safety laws and demonstrate you’ve taken reasonable steps to ensure your workplace is safe.

The HSE looks more favourably on organisations that can demonstrate a genuine commitment to health and safety, which can be crucial during investigations and legal proceedings.

By investing time and resources into identifying and managing risks, you can better protect your business from the high costs of legal challenges and the potential damage to its reputation.

4: Ensure Compliance

It’s not the only answer to the question ‘Why are risk assessments important?’ but it bears repeating: Risk assessments are a legal must for all UK employers and self-employed individuals.

They’re crucial to complying with health and safety laws, protecting workers and preventing legal action.

Who Can Conduct a Risk Assessment?

For a risk assessment to be compliant, it must be carried out by someone with the right level of competence.

In this context, competence means having the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to identify hazards accurately, evaluate the risks, and implement appropriate safety measures. It ensures that the person conducting the assessment understands the specific requirements of the task, can identify subtle risks that might not be immediately obvious, and knows how to control them effectively.

Most employers already have the required knowledge of their work and workplace to identify hazards. But understanding control measures and the risk assessment process often takes further practice.

Our Risk Assessment Training course can help you develop the competence to carry out your own assessments. It explains the five steps to the risk assessment process and how to apply them to your workplace.

You’ll learn to identify potential hazards and control them to a suitable degree. These skills will help you fulfil legal duties and take meaningful steps to create a safer and more productive workplace.

About the author(s)

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Jonathan Goby
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