Risk Assessment Training Resource

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As part of managing health and safety in the workplace, it is important to control the risks. To do this employers and employees need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether reasonable steps are being taken to prevent that harm. This is known as risk assessment and it is something that is required by law to be carried out.

A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but instead about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace. It should focus on how accidents and ill health could happen and on real risks – those that are most likely and would cause the most harm

Some identified risks may be subject to specific regulations and may require specific control measures. A risk assessment can help to identify these specific areas and the required control measures in more detail. These control measures do not need to be assessed separately but can be considered as part of, or an extension of, the overall risk assessment.

Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in the workplace. A good starting point is to look around the workplace and think about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could cause injury to people or harm their health?

When people work in a place every day it can be easy to overlook some hazards, the following suggestions can be useful to help identify the ones that matter:

  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in explaining the hazards and putting them in their true perspective.
  • Look back at the accident and absence records as these can help to identify the less obvious hazards.
  • Take account of non-routine operations e.g. maintenance, cleaning operations or changes in production cycles.
  • Think about long-term hazards to health e.g. high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances.
  • Utilise the HSE website, this publishes practical guidance on hazards and how to control them.

There are some hazards with recognised risks of harm, for example working at height, working with chemicals, machinery and asbestos. Depending on the type of work undertaken, there may be other risks that are relevant to your workplace that should be identified.

Who might be harmed?

The next step is to think about how individuals might be harmed, this includes everyone who may be present such as employees, contractors or visitors. This should involve everyone in the workplace as someone may notice things that are not obvious to others and different people may have good ideas on how to control the risks.

For each hazard it should be clearly identified who might be harmed and what is the best way of controlling the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but identifying groups of people, e.g. people working in the storeroom or passers-by. Remember:

  • Some workers may have requirements, e.g., new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors, homeworkers and lone workers.
  • Think about people who might not be in the workplace all the time, such as visitors, contractors and maintenance workers.
  • Take members of the public into account if they could be harmed by your work activities.
  • If the workplace is shared with another business, consider how the work affects others and how their work affects you. Talk to each other and make sure controls are in place.
  • Consult with other colleagues to check if there is anyone that may have been missed.

Evaluate the risks

Following identification of the hazards, decisions should be made as to how likely it is that harm will occur, i.e., the level of risks and what to do about them. Risk is a part of everyday life and there is not an expectation that all risks will be eliminated. Instead, the main risks should be identified and everyone should be made aware of the measures put in place to manage them responsibly.

An employer needs to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or inconvenience. The employer does not need to take action if the action would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

A risk assessment should only include what employers and employees could reasonably be expected to know – both employers and employees are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

The assessment should look at what is already being done and the control measures already in place and should ask:

  • Can the hazard be removed altogether?
  • If not, how can the risks be controlled so that harm is unlikely?

Some practical steps that can be taken include:

  • Considering less risky activities, processes, substances and materials.
  • Preventing access to the hazards.
  • Organising work activities to reduce exposure to the hazard.
  • Issuing protective equipment.
  • Providing welfare facilities such as first aid and washing facilities.
  • Involving and consulting with all employees.

Improving health and safety does not need to be expensive, for instance, placing a mirror on a blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution, considering the risks. Failure to take simple precautions can cost a lot more if an accident does happen.

All employees should be involved to ensure the proposed measures will work in practice and won’t introduce any new hazards.

Record the significant findings

A record should be made of the significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what has been put in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls.

If a workplace has fewer than five employees a written record is not required, but it is useful to do this so it can be reviewed later, for example if something changes. If a workplace has five or more employees a written record is required by law.

Any paperwork produced should help to communicate and manage the risks in the workplace. For most workplaces this does not need to be a big exercise – only the main points should be recorded about the significant risks and what has been concluded.

When writing down the results the information should be kept simple, for example ‘fume from welding – local exhaust ventilation used and regularly checked’. A risk assessment must be suitable and sufficient, i.e., it should show that:

  • A proper check was made.
  • Those who may be affected were identified.
  • The obvious significant hazards were identified and the number of people who could be involved was considered.
  • The precautions put in place are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low.
  • Employees were consulted and involved in the process.

Where the nature of the work changes fairly frequently or the workplace changes and develops e.g., a construction site or where workers move from site to site, a risk assessment may have to concentrate more on a broad range of risks that can be anticipated.

If the risk assessment identifies a number of hazards, they should be put in order of importance and the most serious risks should be addressed first. Long-term solutions should be Identified for the risks with the biggest consequences, as well as those risks most likely to cause accidents or ill health. It should also be established whether there are improvements that can be implemented quickly, even temporarily, until more reliable controls can be put in place.

Remember, the greater the hazard the more robust and reliable the measures to control the risk of an injury occurring will need to be.

Regularly review the risk assessment

Few workplaces stay the same, e.g., new equipment, new substances and new procedures will be brought in that could lead to new hazards. So, it makes sense to review what is in place on an ongoing basis, the risk assessment should be looked at and the following questions asked:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there improvements that still need to be made?
  • Have employees highlighted any problems?
  • Is there anything to be learned from accidents or near misses?

Make sure the risk assessment stays up to date.

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