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information and advice - health & safety

Doing a Health & Safety Risk Assessment

Whether you are an employer or work alone as a self-employed individual, you are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace

A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause harm and the measures you can take to reduce the chances of an accident or ill health happening. It doesn’t just protect the life and health of you and your employees – it can save you money. Lost output, damaged machinery and higher insurance premiums are just some of the hidden costs that can result from poor health and safety.

The Health and Safety Executive has devised a five step process to help you assess the risks in your workplace. A full copy of the leaflet can be downloaded here. But in summary form, the main steps are as follows:

Step 1 – look for the hazards
A hazard is something that can cause harm such as chemicals, ladders, an awkward staircase or a piece of machinery.

In many service and light industrial sectors hazards will be few and far between. Use your common sense – you will know if you have or regularly use something that could cause a problem.

You can do this assessment yourself. If you are a larger company with a number of employees, you could ask a responsible employee, safety representative or safety officer to help you.

Simply take a walk round the workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Focus on the significant hazards that could cause serious harm or affect several people. Talk to employees – they may have noticed things which are not immediately obvious. Manufacturers instructions or spec sheets may also help you spot hazards. And you should also look at your accident and ill-health records.

Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed and how
This stage of the assessment shouldn’t just focus on normal employees but should take into account the needs of young workers, trainees, expectant mothers etc. Cleaners, visitors and contractors etc who may not be on site the whole time should not be forgotton. And you should also think about members of the public or people you share your workplace with.

Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more needs to be done
You need to look at each significant hazard and decide whether, even after precautions have been taken, the remining risk is high medium or low.

Ensure that you have conformed with any legal requirements relating to that particular hazard (eg ensuring machine guards are in place). Check relevant industry standards and ensure you conform to them. And use your own common sense to ensure you have done everything that is reasonably practicable to keep your workplace safe. The ultimate aim is make all risks small.

If you something that needs to be done, draw up an action list and prioritise remaining risks which are high or could affect most people. If you can’t get rid of the hazard altogether, you should aim to control it so that harm is unlikely.

The HSE suggest you should apply the principles below in the following order:

  • Try a less risky option
  • Prevent access to the hazard (eg by guarding)
  • Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard
  • Issue personal protective equipment
  • Provide welfare facilities such as first aid or washing facilities for the removal of contamination
  • In many cases it could be something as simple and inexpensive as putting up a mirror on a blind corner or putting non-slip material on slippery steps.

Step 4 – record your findings.
If you have fewer than 5 employees you do not have to write anything down but you may find it useful to keep a written record of what you have done.

If you employ more than 5 people you must record the significant findings and conclusions of your assessment. For example: Electrical installations: insulating and earthing checked and found sound.

You must also tell your employees about your findings.

The records should show that a proper check was made, you asked who might be affected, you dealt with the obvious and significant hazards and that the precautions are reasonable and the remaining risk is low.

These records should be retained as they will help you if an inspector asks what precautions you have taken or if you become involved in an action for civil liability. If relevant you can refer to other relevant documents such as manuals, your health and policy statement, fire safety arrangements and son on. You can either combine all these documents or keep them separately.

Step 5 – review your assessment and revise it if necessary
New equipment, machinery, organisation or operations may necessitate further assessements. You don’t need to repeat the whole exercise – just the elements that are affected when a new job or develop introduces a significant new hazard. It is also worth reviewing your assessment regularly – annually will do – to ensure the precautions are still working effectively.