What is a Risk Assessment?

Posted: 1 Apr, 2022.

Written by Alcumus PSM who have over 30 years’ experience in the Health & Safety sector

The purpose of a risk assessment is to help to identify the significant hazards and evaluate any associated risks within the workplace. When a risk assessment is complete you can issue appropriate control measures to protect employees and others against harm or injury.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires that “every employer shall make a suitable & sufficient assessment of the risks to the health & safety of their employees to which they are exposed to while at work”. And if you have five or more employees you need to ensure that these processes are written down and accessible to your employees.

Breaking down a risk

There are two elements that need to be considered, the hazard and the risk levels associated with the hazard.

A HAZARD is defined as “anything, which has the potential to cause harm” Examples of typical hazards are as follows:

  • Working at height with no edge protection
  • Working in the presence of asbestos containing materials
  • Working with chemicals

Once the hazard has been identified it is possible to consider the risk from that hazard.

A RISK is defined as “the likelihood of a particular hazard causing harm” Examples of typical risks are as follows:

  • A person falling from height
  • Exposure to asbestos fibres
  • A burn caused by a spillage of a chemical on to exposed skin

To differentiate between the severities of the identified risks, it is important to give them a risk rating. Some systems use complicated scoring systems, although this is not necessary and a simple ‘Low, Medium or High’ will usually suffice.

To assist you with this, consider the following:

Minor impact/damage quickly repairedModerate impact/partial loss of operationsDisaster/very serious consequences

Risk assessments do not need to be over complicated; it is essentially only to judge whether the hazards are significant and whether or not the precautions in place are satisfactory.

What is the purpose of a risk assessment?

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify anything with the potential to cause accidents and ill health to you, your employees, members of the public, clients, staff or other contractors. If the assessment identifies a significant risk to health and safety, you as an employer or self-employed person must implement measures to either eliminate or control the risk to a reasonable level.

A health and safety risk assessment needs to:

  • Be appropriate to the nature of the work.
  • Be proportionate to the level of risk and the specific nature of that work.
  • Identify and prioritise the control measures required to protect the Health & Safety of employees and other persons who may be affected by that work activity.

Who is responsible for ensuring a health and safety risk assessment is carried out?

It is the responsibility of the employer (or the self-employed person) to carry out the risk assessment, or appoint someone with the relevant knowledge, experience, and skills to be able to assist with this.

When to prepare a HSE risk assessment

Employers (or the self-employed person) must ensure that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been produced prior to starting a specific task or work-related activity to eliminate, reduce or suitably control any associated risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of any person involved with or affected by that task.

Employers should also ensure that employees are fully aware of any risk assessments that are relevant to a specific work-related project.

The risk assessment process

To complete a risk assessment, the HSE has recommended a five-step process, which should be suitable for most small, low risk businesses, if the business is larger or is classed as high risk, then a more detailed assessment of the associated risks will be required. This would normally be undertaking a RAMS (risk assessment method statement).

The Five Steps to complete a HSE Risk Assessment

Step 1: Look for the potential hazards

This is the process of identifying all of the hazards that exist within the workplace that may cause harm to anyone that comes into contact with them. Remember the hazards may not always be obvious.

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how

Once the hazards have been identified, the risk assessment then needs to establish for each hazard who might be harmed and how, persons at risk could include on-site personnel, visitors, or members of the public.

Some hazards may present a higher and more significant level of risk to certain other groups including, young inexperienced workers, new or expectant mothers, new employees, or lone workers.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

This is the process of assessing the significance of the risks and establishing suitable and effective control measures to reduce this level of risk. Consider what’s in place now and how the work is organised, then compare it to best practice and see what you need to do to bring yourself up to the required standard. This is likely to mean additional control measures are required.

Step 4: Record your findings and implement them

Employers with five or more employees have a legal duty to record their risk assessments in writing. Recording your findings on a risk assessment form is an easy way to keep a documented account of the risk assessments that are applicable to the workplace. You are also showing you have considered health & safety related issues and demonstrated action has been taken to mitigate these risks.

Step 5: Review the assessment and revise if necessary

All risk assessments should be seen as a live document and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the existing control measures remain appropriate and effective. Work with your employees who may be able to identify failings in the current measures to refine your assessments.

Different types of Risk Assessment.

In addition to the general requirements for workplace risk assessments, several sets of regulations, contain their own more specific requirements, these include, but are not limited to the following:

Fire Risk Assessments

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that the Responsible Person of any non-domestic premises must carry out a fire risk assessment, to ensure that fire safety precautions are implemented and to protect the safety of their employees and other relevant persons.

DSEAR Risk Assessments

The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, require employers to assess any associated risks in order to prevent or limit the harmful effects of fire, explosion and other similar energy releasing events arising from any dangerous substances used or present within the workplace.

COSHH Assessments

Are required within any workplaces where hazardous substances are stored, used, or manufactured.

Display Screen Equipment Assessments

The DSE Assessment is applicable if employees use display screen equipment as part of their daily work, continuously for an hour or more. Employers must carry out a workstation assessment.

How Alcumus PSM can help

If you’re struggling to develop health & safety procedures then we recommend you speak to our partners at Alcumus PSM. Their team will be able to offer you more help and support on workplace risk assessments.

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