Health and Safety Risk Assessments are a vital tool for businesses to ensure they keep employees and others safe from harm. There’s a lot of legal regulations surrounding every aspect of the working environment – This could be something small like abrasive wheels on a trolley, or something large like the reporting of a fatal workplace accident.
There has long been a need for effective risk assessment within business, but despite this there is often a lot of misconception and misunderstanding about the process. The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on some of these areas and try to help give some clarity.
Firstly, Why Risk Assess?
Risk assessment is a fundamental legal requirement laid down within health and safety law. It transcends from the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety at work of employees and others affected by a business and its activities, and is also specifically laid out in The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (The Management Regs).
The Management Regs require employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk and to record the significant findings where they have 5 or more employees. A common misconception is, “I don’t have to do anything about safety because I have less than 5 employees”.
This is wrong, as health and safety management and the specific requirement (in this case to carry out risk assessments) is a legal requirement which should be carried out regardless of the size of the business, no matter how big or small.
The 5 or more requirement relates to the need to make records of the significant findings of the assessment. In addition to these pieces of legislation the need for risk assessment is also included within many other areas of health and safety law, so it is essential for businesses to observe the law and assess the hazards and associated risks within their business, its premises, and activities.
Use of Risk Assessments
When carried out appropriately the process of risk assessments is an excellent health and safety business tool to allow a suitable assessment of a wide range of hazard areas to be made.
The process allows employers to firstly stop, think, and take a critical look at their business to identify areas where hazards are present, before evaluating the risk to determine if the existing controls in place are adequate, or if more needs to be done to lower the risk to an acceptable level.
Risk assessments should be undertaken by competent persons who can appropriately identify the potential hazards before evaluating the adequacy of existing controls, considering appropriate control measures which are not excessive and are ‘reasonably practicable’.
The term reasonably practicable is common in the health and safety world but some may not be familiar with this term and what it actually means. It is a legal term established through health and safety case law which essentially means weighing up the level of risk with the level of sacrifice (cost, time, and effort) involved in implementing the control measure.
This is an important aspect of risk assessment and to effectively decide on suitable controls there should be no disproportion between the two (level of risk v cost time and effort).
Sadly through misapplication or a lack of understanding of this concept it can lead to overzealous approaches towards health and safety, resulting in excessive risk control measures being applied. This can regularly give health and safety a bad press, but not only this it can also hugely increase cost to a business who through this poor guidance may introduce excessive controls which are disproportionate to the level of risk.
It is therefore essential that the person undertaking the risk assessment is competent to do so, who having identified the hazards, identified who may be harmed and how, evaluated the risk and adequacy of control measures should record the significant findings of the assessment. Any identified control measures depending on the level of risk, can then be prioritised by the business to ensure safety of the site or work activity concerned.
Using effective risk assessment practices carried out by competent persons will hugely benefit businesses to implement successful risk control measures which are cost effective and do not unduly create obstacles for work activities.
When risk assessments are undertaken it is important to involve workers in the process to improve engagement and ideas for solutions. Workers may also have greater awareness of the activity or site and any relevant hazards which may arise, and which may not be immediately obvious to the assessor at the time the risk assessment is being undertaken.
Worker involvement and consultation also helps to develop a positive safety culture within any business leading with improved worker engagement from a work force who are then more likely to adopt and observe any recommended control measures that they have been consulted and involved in introducing.
As part of all health and safety management arrangements it is vitally important to carry out a review periodically and with risk assessments this is no different.
There is no particular review period set in stone and it is often considered best practice to do so on an annual basis, however this will largely depend on the level of risk involved, and regular review does help to demonstrate the ongoing monitoring of a business’ health and safety arrangements as also required under The Management Regs.
Risk assessments should be reviewed to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate to the work activity, premises or hazard area concerned, and importantly that the risk control measures remain effective.
In addition to periodically, risk assessments should also be reviewed on occasions such as:
- Following an accident/incident or near miss event, if there is a change in legal requirements concerning the matter, if there has been any significant changes to the task, process or procedure, if there is any reason to doubt the effectiveness of the assessment.
These are some examples but it is essential for businesses to review risk assessments to ensure continued effectiveness and maintain standards of health and safety.
How Should You Use a Health and Safety Risk Assessment?
It is essential for every business to risk assessing the hazards associated with its undertaking. This includes many risk areas including those associated with people, plants, premises, and the business work activities and processes it carries out.
Good risk assessment means safer businesses with greater focus on risk control, more productive staff, improved legal compliance, and safe operations, all of which makes great business sense and can reduce the huge costs associated with accidents. Risk assessments should be used as a vital tool by businesses to achieve this.
Wurkplace can assist your business with various aspects of health and safety management including risk assessment.
We have competent staff with professional experience and relevant health and safety expertise to support your business with this process and any training requirements you may have.
If you would like to find out more about our outsourced health and safety services, then get in touch with us – you can contact us by phone, email, or social media (see details below).
Colin is an experienced health and safety professional with experience of working in both the public and private sectors. He boasts a wealth of experience in dealing with a range of legislation and health and safety related issues.
His health and safety qualifications include achieving the NEBOSH Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety, the NEBOSH General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, and the NEBOSH Fire Safety and Risk Management Certificate. Additionally, he is also a Chartered Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).