A Guide to Risk Assessments: How To Do Them & Why They're Important
As a business owner, it's important that you are taking precautionary measures to protect yourself and your workers from any harm, no matter what these might be.
This sequence of protective steps is referred to as a risk assessment and is a legal requirement for all employers and many self-employed people, so it's crucial that you have one in place, no matter how big or small your company is.
In this guide, we will be discussing what you need to know about risk assessments, including:
- What is a risk assessment?
- Why are risk assessments important?
- Is a risk assessment a legal requirement?
- When should a risk assessment be carried out?
- How to do a risk assessment
- How to write a risk assessment
- Who is responsible for the completion of risk assessments?
- What happens if a risk assessment is not done?
What is a risk assessment?
According to the HSE, a risk assessment is the process of controlling risks in your workplace, and identifying any possible areas that don't have reasonable steps in place to do this. This can involve anything from preventing slips and trips over wires and wet flooring, to focussing on limiting the risk of injury when loading and unloading heavy shipments.
Risk assessments will vary greatly between different businesses, as each will have their own individual processes that they need to work on. However, there are templates available that you can follow to ensure you're on the right lines — you can find template examples on the HSE website. But, be aware that some risks will require you to follow specific control measures. For example, equipping your employers with personal protective equipment (PPE) in adherence with the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
While it's good to cover all potential types of injury, it's most important to create a risk assessment that outlines the procedure for dealing with incidents that are most likely to occur and which will cause the most harm.
Why are risk assessments important?
The whole point of risk assessments is to protect the people who will be exposed to the hazards, so it's necessary that you are able to adapt your procedures to the needs of your workers. This means management need to cater for everybody, from the young and inexperienced workers, to the elderly or disabled and other groups who may be higher risk. In addition to your existing staff, you'll also need to be able to adjust this to any new workers and their needs.
Having these in place will protect you, your staff and the public and keep your company on the right side of the law.
Is a risk assessment a legal requirement?
According to The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have general duties towards their employees and other members of the public and having risk assessments is one way to ensure everybody stays safe and healthy.
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for all employers and many self-employed people, as enforced by the HSE, but it's only necessary to record these if you employ more than 5 members of staff.
When should a risk assessment be carried out?
As creating a risk assessment is a legal requirement for all business-owners and self-employed people, it's important that this is carried out as soon as possible before you start working. However, as your business grows and you introduce more services or begin using new pieces of machinery or tools, you'll need to update your risk assessment to include these, too.
How to do a risk assessment
For anybody who's never carried one out before, the thought of performing a risk assessment can seem daunting. But, many businesses follow the five steps to risk assessment, as advised by the HSE. In this section, we will be breaking down the procedure, so you can ensure you're able to control risks and get it right the first-time round.
1. Identify the hazards
The first step of a risk assessment is to analyse your work environment and job roles to find out what potential hazards you need to protect yourself and your employees from. This should include taking a walk around your workplace and thinking about the activities, substances or procedures that could potentially cause harm.
There are a couple of common classifications of hazards that you can use to help structure your assessment framework, including:
- Physical hazards: Anything like heavy lifting, trips and falls, poor posture or sitting at computer screens for long periods each day may constitute as a physical hazard and should be dealt with accordingly.
- Mental hazards: Long hours and overnight shifts can certainly take their toll on your worker's mental state, so it's important that you monitor these fairly and have precautions in place to stop them from feeling drained and unwell.
- Chemical hazards: Certain solutions and substances will be harmful to human skin and eyes, as well as other elements around your workplace — especially if they react with others and aren't handled or disposed of properly. You can find more information about identifying, handling and disposing of hazardous chemicals on the government website.
- Biological hazards: Contamination can happen around the workplace, whether it's through staff illness or is brought in by visitors. As an employer, it's necessary for you to have sickness procedures in place to limit the spread of contamination in the first place, and to deal with it should it occur.
If you're not too sure what some of the potential hazards could be, there are a few measures you can take yourself before enlisting the help of professionals to identify these for you:
Look at manufacturers' instructions: It's the manufacturer's job to be clued up on the potential hazards of their product, whether that's machinery, chemicals or anything else. So, if you're struggling to pick up on risks yourself, your first port of call should be to check with what dangers the manufacturer has identified.
Consider looking at your accident records: Consulting a record of illnesses and injuries that have already occurred in your workplace is a good indicator of things that need to be included in your risk assessment.
Think about long-term hazards: These may not seem as obvious as ones you're exposed to suddenly, but this makes it even more important to make yourself aware of these. For example, if your construction workers spend a lot of time around loud noises from power tools and machinery, you will need to ensure that this is controlled to reduce the likelihood of hearing loss.
2. Determine who is at risk and how
When you're creating a risk assessment, you need to consider every person that will be impacted by your work, whether that's yourself, your full- or part-time staff or visitors and members of the public you have on site. When assessing risks to individuals or groups of people, you need to think bigger than just the main areas where they work, and instead consider their work routines in all possible locations and situations.
For example, staff who load and unload shipments are at risk of injuring their backs if not trained properly or given guidelines to follow. Similarly, those who work on the warehouse floor may be at risk of trips, slips and falls, while those delivering may need their shifts altering to avoid accidents caused by fatigue.
Be aware that it is not necessary, and won't be possible, to cover every single risk possible. Instead, we recommend identifying the most likely and serious, creating a risk assessment that deals with these accordingly. Asking your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you, will be helpful for this.
3. Assess the risks and take precautionary measures
Once you've made yourself aware of the risks, it's time to make a plan that will address these and document what should be done to prevent them. Your risk assessment needs to show evidence that you have done 'everything practical' to minimise hazards in the workplace. This means that it’s important for the level of risk to be balanced with the measures needed, particularly with regards to the time, money and effort needed to implement them.
Some businesses will benefit from using a risk matrix that helps you to work out how much of a risk certain hazards pose by looking at the likelihood of them occurring and how much harm it could cause. However, a risk matrix may require the help of professionals experienced in weighing up how much risk is posed and, as a result, how it needs to be categorised. These matrices tend to look like a variation of the below:
|Potential severity of harm|
|Slightly harmful||Harmful||Extremely harmful|
|Likelihood of harm occurring||Highly unlikely||Trivial||Tolerable||Moderate|
Bear in mind that it's impossible to eliminate all hazards in a workplace, so you should look for precautionary measures that make things safer in general. For example, you can give your staff access to mechanical lifting equipment, like cranes, on a lorry to reduce the need to work from a height.
4. Record significant findings
Once you've decided on all of the above, it's good practice — and a legal requirement if you employ five or more staff — to keep a written record of the controls you have in place so that you can revisit it as and when needed, then amend these accordingly.
A risk assessment should show the following:
- A comprehensive and sufficient check was made
- Employers have considered who would be affected by the risk
- Employers have addressed situations with obvious signs of hazards
- The precautions taken can be shown to be reasonable and the risk has been minimised
- Employees were consulted and their opinions and concerns were taken on board
You will also need to consider how quickly you can make these improvements and if there are any temporary measures you can put in place until the fixed regulations come into place.
5. Review your risk assessment and update accordingly
Once you've spent your time designing and finalising the risk assessment for your workplace, it's important that you keep it up to date when new procedures, equipment and people are introduced to the company. Questions to ask yourself when you're reviewing your risk assessment could include the following:
- Have you made any significant changes which would affect people?
- Are there still improvements to be made?
- Have your workers told you about any new risks?
- Have you learnt anything from previous accidents or your sickness absence data?
If you find that certain areas of your risk assessment aren't working well, then these will need adapting on your risk assessment procedures.
How to write a risk assessment
The main point of doing a risk assessment is to create clear and comprehensive instructions so that everyone knows how to handle various risks and hazards in the workplace. The best means of doing this is to create a simple document that addresses each hazard and the procedures being put in place to minimise its risk. Most workplaces will have a range of risks to deal with, so the best approach is to record them in order of importance, with the most dangerous and likely assessed first.
It's important that the document covers everything in enough detail, including all of the measures you could possibly take and the value of the risk according to the matrix (if your company chooses to use one). There are no rules as to how you present this information, but it could follow a similar format to the below, taking into account the 5 steps to risk assessment we discussed in the above section:
|What are the hazards?||Who is at risk and how?||What precautions are already taken?||Steps to control these risks further||Who is action being taken by?||When is the action being taken?||Completed (day/month/year)|
Who is responsible for the completion of risk assessments?
It is the businessowner's responsibility to implement a risk assessment, keep it up to date and also ensure its completion. However, employees also have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with the avoidance procedures to ensure safety for both themselves and others around them.
Employees are also required to comply with any training you give them on health and safety matters, as well as reporting any situations that pose as potential risks and keeping management up to date with how the procedures are going when actually being used.
What happens if a risk assessment is not done?
Not creating a risk assessment can leave you liable for any injuries that happen while your staff are at work. Any employers who fail to comply with the legislation that deems risk assessments as a requirement are breaching their duties as an employer and can be charged with negligence.
A comprehensive risk assessment will protect workers, employers and visitors from harm, so make sure you implement one to improve the health and safety around your workplace.
The health and wellbeing of workers should be a priority for all employers, so don't get caught short without a risk assessment in place to protect everybody from hazards. Hopefully this guide has shown you the basics of creating and implementing a good risk assessment strategy to keep your productions running smoothly and your employees safe and healthy.
For more advice, don't forget to check out the rest of the help guides we have on site. We have articles on health and safety, like PUWER, LOLER, manual handling and working at a height, as well as instructions for our own products, including our goods lifts, so you can ensure you're up to speed with all of your requirements as an employer.
Disclaimer: This guide has been produced as a basic introduction to risk assessments. For any further information or details about these, please visit the HSE website.