Risk Assessment

By Fiona Burns
18 Jan 2023

Every workplace has hazards. While some only pose a mild risk, others can be life-threatening. The way to properly manage any hazard is with a risk assessment.

A lack of adequate safety knowledge can lead to increased injuries in the workplace. This brings a decrease in employee well-being, productivity and morale.

As an employer, you have a legal duty of care to those in your workplace. Fail to provide this and you could also face fines, legal action and reputational damage

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about risk assessments. Including how you produce one, who is responsible for them and the common pitfalls employers experience when creating them.

What is a workplace risk assessment?

The definition of a risk assessment in the workplace is a significant part of the risk management process. There are risk assessment laws and regulations that require a workplace assessment to be made such as the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations.

The assessment process requires you to identify all of the safety hazards that exist in your workplace. It should highlight which hazards are likely to cause harm to employees and control measures to manage them.

The approach you take should be proportionate to the complexity of the task and the risk involved.

If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write down your risk assessment or health and safety policy. However, it is always good practice to keep records for audits and annual reviews.

What are the benefits of a health and safety risk assessment?

A risk assessment has many benefits for you and your employees. As well as keeping staff and visitors to your premises safe, risk assessments help identify risks which in turn helps you develop health and safety management plans

Having up-to-date and comprehensive health and safety policies and procedures keeps you legally compliant. However, an assessment by itself is not enough.

Risks take many forms and can impact a workplace in multiple—and sometimes surprising—ways.

Maintaining constant vigilance by conducting safety inspections and reviewing assessments regularly is the best way to guarantee safety and security in your workplace.

Consequences of not carrying out a risk assessment

There’s one obvious result of failing to carry out a health & safety risk assessment—workplace accidents. Failing to identify and address the risks will mean your staff and visitors will be exposed to them.

The accident itself is likely to result in a civil legal claim by the employee. This, in turn, can result in costly payouts for your business.

An accident is also likely to draw the attention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This often results in hefty fines for breaches of health & safety. They can also perform spot checks and even force the closure of the business in some instances.

If your business isn’t forced to close, you can still suffer reputational damage which will impact recruitment and staff retention.

A workman holding his tools and smiling at the camera

What should be in a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is designed to identify potential hazards and therefore a crucial part of your risk management. Regularly reviewing your risk assessments is also part of a systematic process to minimise risk. What should be included in a risk assessment, however?

Assess physical areas of the premises

A risk assessment should consider all aspects of your working environment. This is different for each business.

To be safe, make sure you cover all physical areas of your premises as well as other areas where people work. Identify risks in all activities, services, and operations.

You should also judge whether your current control measures are sufficient and suitable to control risks or eliminate them.

Identify risks by hazard

Identifying hazards is one of the most crucial parts of conducting a risk assessment.

Here are the main ones to look out for:

  • Electrical safety
  • Fire safety
  • Manual handling
  • Hazardous substances
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Stress
  • Violence
  • Infectious diseases.

If you have concerns about a specific hazard in your workplace, you can receive expert health & safety advice today from one of our consultants. Click here to get 24/7 advice.

What does a risk assessment look like?

No safety risk assessment looks the same. However, it can be confusing to pinpoint exactly which type of assessment you need to carry out.

Any standard template will need amends to ensure that it fits your specific workplace.

So long as you follow the steps outlined above, your risk assessment should be accurate.

However, if you’d like a clearer picture of what a typical risk assessment looks like, you can download a free risk assessment template at the bottom of this article.

Why do we have risk assessments in the workplace?

You have a legal duty of care to protect your worker's health, safety and well-being.

Some work practices require specialist training, such as the handling of dangerous substances or operating machinery. These practices throw up a plethora of potential health & safety issues that you need to address.

The main purpose of a health & safety risk assessment is to identify and raise awareness of these hazards and risks. This serves as the first step in developing an occupational health & safety management plan.

Risk assessments also help in:

  • Identifying individuals at risk.
  • Determining if existing precautions are adequate.
  • Preventing illness or injury (ensure you review a risk assessment following an incident).
  • Prioritising high-risk hazards over low-risk ones.
  • Meeting legal requirements and maintaining compliance.
  • Continual improvement and improving safety.

Are risk assessments required by law?

Health & Safety legislation does require you to have a risk assessment by law. However, if you employ less than five people you don’t need to provide a written assessment.

Even if you employ less than five staff, you must provide risk analysis and be able to provide evidence of this if investigated. So, it’s safe to still document it, even if in a more simplified format.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 outlines an employer’s legal duties with regard to health & safety. More specifically, it requires employers to put control measures in place to manage health & safety risks. Employers are required to:

  • Have a written health & safety policy (if you have more than 5 staff)
  • Assess the risks to staff and other individuals who could be affected by your activities.
  • Provide ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessments in line with legislation in the UK
  • Arrange for preventative and protective measures that come from risk assessments
  • Give access to competent health & safety advice
  • Provide information to employees about workplace risks
  • Arrange training for staff on dealing with workplace risk
  • Ensure adequate and appropriate supervision

While there is other legislation relating to risk assessments, this is one of the most relevant ones for employers.

employees using ropes and safety equipment

Who completes a risk assessment?

Risk assessments should be assigned to a competent person within your business. This is done to ensure you meet the requirements of health & safety law.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the health and well-being of staff falls to you, the employer. However, the competent person can manage health & safety in your stead—this includes risk assessments.

Selecting a competent person

When selecting a competent person to manage health & safety you can consider staff within your organisation. This can include you, the employer. If no obvious candidate is available, you can outsource this responsibility, or consult with external health & safety representatives.

A competent person is someone with sufficient training, experience, or knowledge to manage the health & safety of your business. The level of competence will depend on how complex the risks in your workplace are.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual needs specific health & safety qualifications. Although these should undoubtedly be taken into account when selecting candidates.

How to carry out a health & safety risk assessment

You can carry out a risk assessment for any number of hazards or risks in the workplace.

For example, you could choose to conduct a workplace health risk assessment that focuses on work-related illness and the mental well-being of your employees. Or, you could conduct a review on manual handling, operating heavy machinery or handling hazardous substances.

Ultimately, however, there are two types of risk assessment:

  1. Qualitative
  2. Quantitative

Qualitative assessments are based on evidence and circumstances. Quantitative assessments rely on a personal judgement that you glean from data.

It is often worth conducting the two together to form a more well-rounded view of the risks.

Whichever approach you choose, the HSE guidelines propose the following five basic steps. Here’s how to structure your health and safety risk assessment process:

The five steps of a risk assessment process

These are as follows:

  1. Identify hazards.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
  4. Record your findings and implement them.
  5. Review your assessment and update it if necessary.

employees conducting a fire risk assessment

Implementing control measures

One of the purposes of risk analysis is to identify new control measures and assess the effectiveness of existing ones. To make sure you are controlling hazards correctly, you need to create strict safety plans.

For example, let’s say an employee works with heavy machinery in a factory. You likely already have safeguards in place, such as screens and barriers to separate the worker from the machinery. However, one of the potential hazards identified in your assessment is a space where the machinery is unguarded. This poses a higher risk of injury and may cause harm to anyone operating it.

To solve this, you could provide an additional barrier to prevent anyone who might be harmed by it. Make sure that staff are aware of any new processes so that they can work to help ensure their own safety.

Different industries and different equipment will require separate approaches. Depending on the equipment you are using there may be a legal requirement you need to fulfil. This means you should never adopt a blanket approach when managing hazards. There may be other factors that you haven’t considered.

Risk assessment template for the workplace

The HSE provides several templates, including workplace risk assessment forms, policies, and guides. You can find them by downloading our sample risk assessment here.

Can Croner help with risk assessments?

Your risk assessment process is a key component in robust health and safety measures in your organisation. The health & safety of your office, workplace, employees and visitors to your premises is your responsibility. Therefore you need to ensure that a responsible person is in place to conduct risk assessments, identify hazards and minimise operational risks.

Croner has a team of award-winning health & safety specialists who are on hand to advise businesses 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Why not speak to a Croner expert on 0800 124 4378?

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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