5 Steps to Risk Assessment

Author: Manny OG

Having worked as a Health Care and Safety Professional, dealing with hazardous staff, patients and working environments I find it necessary to share something that might save you a lot of money if you run your own business.  As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm.

This is known as risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down.

A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of boring paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

Think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause the most harm.

  1. Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of your risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in your workplace.
A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and think about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health?
When you work in a place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards, so here are some tips to help you 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 your accident and ill-health records – these often help to
    identify the less obvious hazards.
  • Take account of non-routine operations (eg maintenance, cleaning
    operations or changes in production cycles).
  • Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (eg high levels of
    noise or exposure to harmful substances).

There are some hazards with a recognized risk of harm, for example working at height, working with chemicals, machinery, and asbestos. Depending on the type of work you do, there may be other risks that are relevant to your business.

2. Who might be harmed?

For each hazard you need to be clear about who might be harmed – it will help you identify the best way of controlling the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people (eg people working in the storeroom or passers-by). Remember:

  • Some workers may have particular requirements, eg 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 you share a workplace with another business, consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you and your workers. Talk to each other and make sure controls are in place.
  • Ask your workers if there is anyone you may have missed.

3. Evaluate the risks

Generally, you need 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 trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.
Your risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

Look at what you’re already doing and the control measures you already have in place. Ask yourself:

  • Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
  • If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

Some practical steps you could take include:

  • trying a less risky option;
  • preventing access to the hazards;
  • organizing your work to reduce exposure to the hazard;
  • issuing protective equipment;
  • providing welfare facilities such as first aid and washing facilities;
  • involving and consulting with workers.

Improving health and safety need not cost a lot. For instance, placing a mirror on a blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution, considering the risks.

If you control a number of similar workplaces containing similar activities, you can produce a model risk assessment reflecting the common hazards and risks associated with these activities.

4. Record your significant findings

Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls. A risk assessment must be suitable and sufficient, ie it should show that:

  • a proper check was made;
  • you asked who might be affected;
  • you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved;
  • the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low;
  • you involved your employees or their representatives in the process.

5. Regularly review your risk assessment

Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. So it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis, look at your risk assessment again and ask yourself:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there improvements you still need to make?
  • Have your workers spotted a problem?
  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.