5 Steps to Risk Assessment

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So what are risk assessments? Well, Risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation and failure to conduct them is an offence. Risk assessments are designed to ensure employers have adequately considered the things that can go wrong in the workplace and should take into account:

  • People
  • Environment
  • Premises
  • Plant
  • Procedures

It’s important to understand the difference between risk and a hazard:

  • A risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody may be harmed by the hazard.
  • A hazard can be anything - whether work materials, equipment, work methods or practices - that has the potential to cause harm.

Risk assessment is the process of evaluating risks to workers' safety and health from workplace hazards. It is a systematic examination of all aspects of work that considers:

  • what could cause injury or harm
  • whether the hazards could be eliminated and, if not
  • what preventive or protective measures are, or should be, in place to control the risks.

There are 5 basic steps to conducting a risk assessment. These are:

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

Step 1. Identify potential hazards

It is important to firstly identify any potential hazards within a workplace that may cause harm to anyone that comes into contact with them. They may not always be obvious so some simple steps you can take to identify hazards are:

  • Observation: Walking around your workplace and looking at what activities, tasks, processes or substances used could harm your employees (or others)
  • Looking back over past accidents and ill-health records as they may identify less obvious hazards
  • Checking manufacturers’ data sheets, instructions, information and guidance
  • Consulting with employees (and others) who are carrying out the activities, tasks or processes.

It may be useful to group hazards into five categories, namely physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic and psychological.

Step 2. Identify who might be harmed by those hazards

Next, identify who might be harmed by those potential hazards. It should also be noted how they could be affected, be it through direct contact or indirect contact. It is not necessary to list people by name, rather by identifying groups including:

  • Employees
  • Contractors

Some hazards may present a higher risk to certain groups including children, young people, new or expectant mothers, new employees, home workers, and lone workers.

Step 3. Evaluate risk severity and establish precautions

After identifying any hazards and who might be affected, it is important to evaluate the severity the risk may present (should it occur) and establish suitable and effective controls to reduce this level of risk as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’.  This means that everything possible is done to ensure health and safety considering all relevant factors including:

  • Likelihood that harm may occur
  • Severity of harm that may occur
  • Knowledge about eliminating, reducing or controlling hazards and risks
  • Availability of control measures designed to eliminate, reduce or suitably control or the risk
  • Costs associated with available control measures designed to eliminate, reduce or suitably control or the risk

Assessing the severity of a risk requires an evaluation of the likelihood of an occurrence and how substantial the consequences that it may cause. Some factors affecting this evaluation include the duration and frequency of exposure, number of persons affected, competence of those exposed, the type of equipment and its condition, and availability of first-aid provision and/or emergency support.

Step 4. Implement changes and record your findings
If a workplace has five or more individuals, significate findings of the risk assessments are required to be kept either electronically or in writing. Recording your findings on a risk assessment form is an easy way to keep track of the risks and control measures put in place to reduce the identified risk. The form includes:

  • What hazards were found
  • Person(s) or groups affected
  • The controls put in place to manage risks and who is monitoring them
  • Who carried out the assessment
  • On what date the assessment was done.

It is sensible to ensure the risk assessment is proportionate to the activity or task being carried out and this can often be a straightforward process for generic tasks.

Step 5. Review your assessment and reassess if necessary

Employers should periodically review the assessment and if necessary, re-assess any controls in place.

A good guide as to when you may need to review your processes are:

  • After any significant change within the workplace or process in question
  • After an accident or ill-health incident has occurred
  • After near-misses have been reported.