Workplace Risk Assessments

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Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns

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07 Mar 2019

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

Without adequate knowledge of risk or hazards in the workplace, injuries are bound to happen. With this brings a decrease in employee wellbeing, productivity and morale.

And as it is your legal duty of care to look after those in your workplace, you can also face fines and legal action.

But is a risk assessment a legal requirement as well? Does this fall under a legal duty of care?

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about these risk assessments: how many employees affect them, how you produce one, who is responsible for it and common pitfalls employers fall into.

Read more to have a safe and productive workplace.

What is a workplace risk assessment?

They are a major part of the risk management process. There are risk assessment laws and regulations that require a workplace assessment to be made. The leading piece of legislation in this area is the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (more on this later).

The assessment is a process. It will require you to identify all of the 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 size of your business.

It goes without saying that your risk assessment is based on how many employees you have. However, if you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write down your risk assessment or health & safety policy.

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

Aside from keeping you, your employees, and anyone visiting your premises safe, conducting risk assessments helps identify risks which in turn helps you develop health & safety management plans.

Having up to date and comprehensive health & safety policies and procedures in place helps you stay legally compliant.

The assessment itself is not the end of the story.

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

Maintaining constant vigilance by conducting 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 assessment—workplace accidents. Failing to identify and address the risks will mean your staff and visitors will be exposed to them. If this occurs, this will just be the first in a long line of consequences for you and your business.

The accident itself is likely to result in a legal claim by the employee. This, in turn, can result in costly pay-outs for your business. An accident is also likely to draw the attention of the HSE. This often results in hefty fines for breach of health & safety. They can also perform spot checks and even force closure of the business in certain cases.

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

For many companies, despite their size, a serious workplace accident can result in a full business closure. Don’t assume your business will be fine.

You can make your workplace safer with a regular assessment and review.

What should be in a risk assessment?

By area

It 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 the premises 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, or eliminate, the risks.

By hazard

When asking the question: “What should a risk assessment contain?” the obvious answer is ‘hazards’.

Here are the main ones to look out for:

  1. Electrical safety.
  2. Fire safety.
  3. Manual handling.
  4. Hazardous substances.
  5. Repetitive strain injury.
  6. Stress.
  7. Violence.
  8. 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.

Why do we have risk assessments in the workplace?

You have a legal duty of care to protect your workers health, safety and wellbeing.

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.

That isn’t the only benefit however, work risk assessments also help in:

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

If that wasn’t enough to convince you that a risk assessment is a good idea, it might help you to know whether a risk assessment is mandatory.

Are risk assessments required by law?

Yes, according to “The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999.” However, if you employ less than five people you don’t need to provide a written assessment.

Despite this, you must still assess risks 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.

This piece of legislation outlines an employer’s legal duties with regard to health & safety. More specifically, it requires employers to put control arrangement in place to manage health & safety risks.

It outlines the following requirements for employers:

  1. A written health & safety policy for businesses with five or more staff.
  2. Assessments of the risks to staff and other individuals who could be affected by your activities.
  3. The assessments must be ‘suitable and sufficient’ and in line with risk assessment legislation in the UK.
  4. Arrangement for preventative and protective measures that come from risk assessments
  5. Access to competent health & safety advice.
  6. Information provided to employee about workplace risks.
  7. Instruction and training for staff on dealing with workplace risk.
  8. Adequate and appropriate supervision.
  9. Consultation with employee about the risks they are exposed to and the safety measures in place.

While there is other legislation relating to risk assessments, this is the one you’ll refer back to the most.

Who completes a risk assessment?

As the previous section noted, risk assessment regulations require all employers to conduct a risk assessment.

But who specifically is responsible for risk assessments in your workplace?

You should assign a competent person within your business to ensure you meet the requirements of health & safety law. Ultimately, the responsibility for the health and wellbeing 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 looking for a competent person to manage health & safety you should give preference to 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 in your business. The level of competence will depend on how complex the risks in your workplace are. This doesn’t necessarily mean the individual has specific health & safety qualifications, although these should certainly 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 the work-related illness and the mental wellbeing of your employees.

Or, you could conduct a review on manual handling, operating heavy machinery, handling hazardous substances, etc.

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

  1. Qualitative.
  2. Quantitative.

You base the former assessment on evidence and circumstances. You base the latter on personal judgement that you glean from data.

The two are not mutually exclusive, and 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 following five rigid steps. Here’s how to do a health & safety risk assessment:

The five steps to a risk assessment

These are as follows:

  1. Identify the 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 if necessary.

So long as you follow these five steps, you can’t go far wrong.

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, and how each of them differ.

Even if you’re using a standard template, you will need to make changes to address the particular risks your workplaces faces.

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 template at the bottom of this article.

Risk assessment template for the workplace

The HSE provides several templates, including a workplace risk assessment form, policy, and guide. You can find them all here. Or download our own sample risk assessment here

Risk assessment UK law, and other health & safety legislation, can be confusing. This is why we have a great health & safety advice service, where you can get free advice whenever you need it.

If you want more detailed guidance or a sounding board for you to bounce ideas regarding health & safety in your workplace, 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.

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Fiona Burns

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