Risk assessment

Risk assessment is the underlying principle in all aspects of health and safety.  In its simplest form (which is adequate for most situations) it is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people and an evaluation of whether enough precautions have been taken or more should be done.  Risk assessment is an important step in protecting workers and businesses, as well as complying with the law.

The HSE has a whole section of their website devoted to risk assessment.  Its address is http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk

1.1                      Terminology

The two main terms used are hazard and risk

  • A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc;
  • The risk is the chance that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be. In other words it is a function of likelihood and consequence.

1.2                      Carrying out risk assessment

The HSE suggest there are five steps to risk assessment.

Step 1: Identify the hazards;

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how;

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions (including what more can be done to reduce risks on top of what is already in place);

Step 4: Record your findings and implement them;

Step 5: Review your assessment and update if necessary.

1.2.1                       Identifying who may be harmed

When carrying out risk assessment, the main groups of people to be considered include:

  • Employees;
  • Contractors;
  • Visitors;
  • Members of the public (on premises);

Special attention is required for vulnerable people who may be at a greater risk than the general population and so may require additional precautions.  These groups include:

  • Young workers;
  • Children;
  • Trainees (of any age);
  • People with disabilities and special needs that may make them physically more vulnerable or affect their ability to take precautions because of their physical capabilities or being unable to understand the requirements;
  • New and expectant mothers (including affects to unborn and young babies via the mother).

1.2.2                       Practical aspects for carrying out a risk assessment

Risk assessment is best carried out by a team of people, who ideally have different backgrounds and experiences.  This makes it more likely that all issues are considered and that the assessment is objective and realistic.  It is important to recognise that it is natural for people to become complacent to the risks they experience on a regular basis to the point where they can fail to see hazards that are present.  For this reason it is useful to involve people who are not overly familiar with the situations being assessed, possibly coming from another department or brought in from a separate organisation.

Risk assessment should not be a desk-based paperwork exercise.  Wherever possible the activity being assessed should be observed and the people carrying out the activity asked for their opinions.  Assessment team members need to have competence in carrying out risk assessment as well as a wide ranging knowledge of potential hazards and practical controls.

1.2.3                       Reviewing risk assessments

Risk assessments need to reflect reality so it is important that they are reviewed whenever changes occur to the way tasks are performed, equipment and materials used (including type and quantity), and the people likely to be harmed.  Also, whenever new information becomes available that may affect the assessment, including as a result of an incident, following an audit or when a process is shown to not be working as expected.  New legislation may change the requirements or emphasis on risk assessment, with the general trend being for it to be more risk-based and less prescriptive.

1.3                      Legal duties

The HSAW act 1974 places a general duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees so far as is reasonably practicable.  Also, there is a legal duty under MHSW regulations 1999 to carry out risk assessment and, if five or more people are employed, it is necessary to record all significant findings.

1.3.1                       Suitable and sufficient

The requirement of UK legislation is to develop risk assessments that are suitable and sufficient.  To satisfy this it is necessary to demonstrate that:

  • All significant hazards have been identified;
  • The risks have been properly evaluated considering likelihood and severity of harm;
  • Measures necessary to achieve acceptable levels of risk have been identified;
  • Actions have been prioritised to reduce risks;
  • The assessment will be valid for some time;
  • Actual conditions and events likely to occur have been considered during the assessment;
  • Everyone who may be harmed has been identified and considered.