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The 5 Steps to Risk Assessment Explained

Health and safety risk assessments are critical to creating safe work environments for your employees. Risk assessments are a pillar of risk management and a key provision in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, allowing employers to identify hazards that could harm people within a workplace. More importantly, risk assessments enable organisations to conduct a practical review of the steps that prevent risks from hurting people and damaging property.

But the value of risk assessments goes beyond health and safety at work. A risk assessment also allows contractors and self-employed individuals (i.e., sole traders) to achieve health and safety accreditation through prequalification questionnaire (PPQ)systems like SSIP, PAS 91, and the Common Assessment Standard. This enables you to demonstrate your ability to manage health and safety risks — a requirement of many tenders and contracts.

What Is A Health And Safety Risk Assessment?

A health and safety risk assessment identifies hazards that currently exist or have the potential of appearing in the workplace. Although these risks focus on health and safety, they also encompass other areas such as quality management, environmental damage and asset damage — often, issues affecting one area impact the other. For example, faulty electrical equipment could cause fires that damage your property. Poor manual handling processes could injure workers and expose your organisation to legal action.

Risk assessments are a legal obligation and should form part of your duty of care to protect employees and the general public from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers are legally required, at the minimum, to do the following:

  • Identify hazards that could cause injury or illness in your business
  • Determine the likelihood of common hazards harming someone and how seriously
  • Take action to eliminate or control the hazard.

Self-employed individuals whose work activities fall under “construction, agriculture, railways or work with gas, asbestos or genetically modified organisms” or pose a risk to the health and safety of others are also required by law to assess risks in their places of work.

Three Goals Of Conducting A Health And Safety Risk Assessment

When thinking about the importance of health and safety risk assessments, it helps to think of their three primary goals:

  1. A reliable health and safety risk assessment should identify health and safety hazards and put precautions in place to prevent accidents and work-related ill-health.
  2. A risk assessment will enable your organisation to protect people, employees, contractors and subcontractors.
  3. Risk assessments enable contractors to prequalify for tenders. They allow contractors to demonstrate their ability to manage and reduce health and safety risks.

What Are The 5 Steps To Risk Assessment?

Although employers and self-employed individuals don’t have to use these precise terms, the law states that a risk assessment should demonstrate that:

  • Proper checks have been made
  • Parties and individuals that may be affected by hazards have been identified
  • You have addressed the obvious significant risks and accounted for the number of people who could be affected
  • You’ve taken reasonable steps to prevent harm, and the remaining risk is acceptable
  • Your workers (and contractors, if any) or their representatives have been involved in the risk assessment process.

The level of detail in your risk assessment should be proportionate to the significance of the risk and the nature of the work you’re doing. Generally speaking, small or insignificant risks or risks from routine activities associated with general life don’t have to be mentioned unless your work activities alter or compound their potential threat to your workplace. Similarly, you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable or unprecedented risks. In other words, your risk assessments should only include risks you are reasonably expected to be aware of.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to conducting risk assessments, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has outlined five steps contractors and organisations can follow to create safer working environments.

Risk Assessment Step #1: Identify Hazards In The Workplace

Identifying and locating potential hazards is the first step in a risk assessment. Several different types of hazards should be considered.

Physical risks include tripping or falling in the workplace, sustaining injuries when lifting heavy materials or working with dangerous machinery. Biological and chemical hazards should also be considered, such as asbestos, chemical cleaning products and infectious diseases. And risk assessments shouldn’t overlook psychosocial hazards that can affect the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, for example, stress, victimisation and excess workload. Every workplace is different, so the types of hazards you identify will depend on your industry and the specific site.

You may be able to spot some physical hazards by simply walking around the workplace and taking note of anything that could cause harm. But to identify the not-so-obvious risks, you could look back over your records of accidents and ill-health to see if there are any patterns. Or, look through instruction manuals from products and equipment used in the workplace — these can indicate any risks involved in working with these items.

Risk Assessment Step #2: Decide Who Might Be Harmed And How 

Once you’ve identified the hazards in your workplace, you should consider why they are harmful — what type of injuries or ill-health can they cause? Hazards may pose a single threat or be harmful in more than one way.

As well as detailing exactly how hazards can be harmful, risk assessments should identify who is at risk. This may be all those working on-site, particular groups of workers, visitors, or passers-by. Understanding who could be at risk will help individuals and organisations keep people safe.

Risk Assessment Step #3: Evaluate The Risks And Take Action To Prevent Them 

This stage is about taking action to create a safe work environment. Evaluate the likelihood and severity of risks and then put precautions and control measures in place.

While you’re not expected to eliminate risk, as often this isn’t possible, you should take action proportionate to the level of risk. This means risks that pose a bigger threat should receive more extensive control measures than low-risk hazards.

The actions taken during this stage could include trialling less risky equipment or products, restricting access to hazardous areas, offering effective health and safety training, and issuing protective equipment to employees and contractors.

Risk Assessment Step #4: Record Your Findings 

Recording the findings of your risk assessment means you can use and review the assessment in the future. For employers with five or more staff, it’s also a legal requirement to document the findings of risk assessments and the action taken to reduce the level of risk.

A written risk assessment provides proof that hazards were evaluated and appropriate action was taken to reduce risk. This proof can protect your business from legal liability and may be useful for raising awareness amongst contractors and employees about the potential risks of a worksite.

You can also follow through on the significant findings of your risk assessment by producing a method statement. This document details how, when, and why you should implement your risk management measures.

 

Risk Assessment Step #5: Review The Risk Assessment

Work environments are constantly changing — new people come and go, equipment and products are swapped and trialled, and new materials are introduced. And the more a workplace changes, the less relevant the risk assessment becomes. So to make sure risk assessments are up to date and inclusive of all potential hazards, they need to be reviewed and potentially updated every time there are significant changes in the workplace.

Source: CHAS

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