Risk assessment is the cornerstone of health and safety. It is used to identify hazards and take steps to eliminate them from causing harm. Where hazards cannot be eliminated completely, risk assessment aims to reduce the likelihood of the hazard causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable.
Risk assessment may seem complicated at first, but in fact, we conduct it every day in our personal lives.
Think about the assessment you make when trying to cross a busy road. Or what you might do to protect yourself from sunburn during the summer. In situations like these, we assess potential harm, and take steps to prevent it.
In the workplace, risk assessment is a process to understand the risks involved in every work activity that takes place. This ranges from complex tasks such as operating machinery to simply being in a noisy environment.
The purpose of a risk assessment is to prevent accidents, injury and ill-health to workers: a suitable and sufficient risk assessments will save lives.
Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees. So, the risk assessment process is an integral part of every workplace safety management system.
The risk assessment process was formally included in UK law in 1988 in the original Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). It had been used for many years before then by safety practitioners, such as on hazard spotting tours, and continues to be the prime factor in making work safe.
The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) state that employers must identify the hazards within the workplace.
Employers must assess how work carried out could harm anyone that may be affected by their operations. This includes:
- Even members of the public
Employers must consider the likelihood of harm occurring and its potential severity. They must eliminate the hazards, and if this is not possible, reduce them.
It is important that the assessment of risk is proportionate to the risk. This means that an exhaustive assessment is not necessary for a low-risk environment like an office.
But where there are high risks, such as on a chemical plant, a detailed risk assessment will be required.
Should an accident occur at work, the enforcing body can ask for evidence that all foreseeable risks were considered. They would want to see that a risk assessment had been conducted.
Where there are five or more employees, the assessment must be recorded. The authorities can ask to see this documentation.
There are a number of different formats that risk assessments can take. They can vary based on the severity of the potential harm, the type of hazard involved, the worksite, or even personal preference.
A general risk assessment need not be complicated. It can simply show:
- The hazards
- Who may be harmed
- What the existing control measures are
- What additional control measures are needed (if any are)
Risk assessments often use a 5 by 5 risk assessment matrix to calculate the level of risk. This helps to determine what controls are necessary and if they are effective.
The definition of risk is likelihood x severity. The 5 by 5 matrix uses five categories of likelihood (horizontal axis) and five categories of severity, or consequences, (vertical axis). The level of risk will range from 1 = very low risk to 25 = very high risk.
Colours can also be used for visual significance – green equating to low risk, amber or yellow for medium, and red for high risk.
In each case the risk rating can come down to the assessor’s personal opinion and risk perception. This can cause debate if the risk assessment is being carried out by more than one person.
Some work activities require a risk assessment and method statement. Where a risk assessment will determine what your control measures are, the method statement explains how you will execute those control measures.
For example, a risk assessment carried out for repairing a roof of a high-rise building may identify the hazard of working at height and the control measures that must be in place. This may include access equipment and wearing personal protective equipment.
The method statement will contain information such as:
- Time and date the work will take place
- PPE required
- Detailed description of the work
- Names of the operatives
- Evidence of their qualifications to undertake the work
- Steps that will be taken
The Coronavirus pandemic gives us an example of how a health and safety risk assessment can help to reduce risk and implement control measures to save lives.
In early 2020, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) began requiring companies to conduct a risk assessment for COVID-19, to help manage the risk of infection and protect people.
So, an employer’s COVID-19 risk assessment should examine:
- Who might contract the virus
- Who was more vulnerable to the virus
- How exposure might occur
- What needed to be done to reduce the likelihood of transmission
Given the changeable nature of the Coronavirus, these risk assessment documents must be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is up-to-date with the government guidelines and latest health advice.
To do a risk assessment, you must first get the right people together. A trained health and safety practitioner could create one on their own. But to be effective, the risk assessment process should involve those who actually do the job.
Workplace observation is also key to getting an accurate idea of the hazards involved.
To conduct an effective risk assessment, you should understand: what tools and equipment are needed, the environment, and how people actually do the job.
After the assessment is complete, it should be documented and shared with the workforce.
Involving everyone in the workplace, will improve the risk assessment itself, as well as boost staff morale and improve safety culture. This will empower employees and give them ownership over this important safety process.
The risk assessment must be dated and reviewed as necessary. Reviews might occur annually, or based on need. For instance, it is good practice to review risk assessments after incidents occur or when there is a change in the working environment.
The five steps of risk assessment are:
- Identify the hazards
- Consider those who may be harmed and how they will come to harm
- Evaluate the identified risks and decide on whether existing control measures are enough or if more needs to be done
- Records the findings
- Review the risk assessment when necessary and make any necessary changes
Risk analysis and risk assessment are forms of risk management. While risk assessment considers what can cause harm to people, risk analysis looks at potential risks and the impact they will have on a business.
A risk register will capture these risks. For example, what is the risk of extending a fire risk assessment program from annually to every two years.
Human Focus has a suite of risk assessment courses that aim to equip trainees at all levels, from operatives to senior management, with a good understanding of the process and application of a risk assessment. The courses cover the essentials of a number of different risk areas, as listed below:
- Essentials of Food Safety Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Display Screen Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Noise Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Manual Handling Risk Assessment
- Risk Assessment in Industry – What everyone needs to know
- Making Risk Assessment Effective – For Managers
- Introduction to Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Stress Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Fire Risk Assessment – Generic Version
- Essentials of Stress Risk Assessment
- Introduction to Risk Assessment in Construction
- Essentials of Hazardous Substances Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Work Equipment Risk Assessment – Part 1
- Essentials of Work Equipment Risk Assessment – Part 2
- Essentials of Work at Height Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Asbestos Safety Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Hot Work Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Confined Space Risk Assessment
- Essentials of Conducting Lift Operations Risk Assessment