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How To Carry Out a Risk Assessment in 5 steps

Written by:
Paula Coster
BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF
Updated 5 June 2020

As part of managing health and safety within an organisation, you are legally required (the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) to carry out a risk assessment, or to appoint a competent person to carry one out for you.

The purpose of this is to identify sensible measures you need to take to control health and safety risks.

In order to fulfil the requirements of the regulations, you need to recognise potential hazards and then take appropriate action in order to minimise the risk as far as is reasonably practicable – that is balancing the magnitude of the risk of a particular work activity or environment with the physical difficulty, time, trouble and expense which would be involved in taking steps to eliminate or minimise those risks.

A hazard is anything that may cause harm, eg chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, noise etc.

A risk is the chance, high or low, of somebody being harmed by the hazard, and how serious the harm could be.

What does a risk assessment look like for a small or low risk business?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) uses a 5 step approach which starts with identifying the hazards in your workplace.

Identify Hazards

A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and notice anything which might cause harm.  Ask what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health?

Common hazards in a low risk workplace occur in a number of ways:
Physical i.e. slips and trips, DSE, lifting and moving tasks.
Mental i.e. long work hours, stress, bullying culture.
Chemical – asbestos, cleaning fluids.
Biological – waste, viruses (for specific COVID-19 guidance, see Government website here)

Don’t only look at immediate hazards, look at ones that can cause harm over time such as poor seating which can eventually lead to back pain and musculoskeletal problems.

Reviewing past records   Other possible sources of information are your accident report books and health records. Reviewing these can give you a good insight into past issues; which, if they haven’t been resolved, could present hazards.

Involve your co-workers in the process   Ask staff or their representatives for their input – they will be more familiar with many of the processes than you are and can offer some insight into any risks they face.

Vulnerable people   There will also be groups of people more vulnerable than others, for instance young workers (work experience students for example) new recruits, people with disabilities, shift workers, expectant or breastfeeding mothers, migrant workers whose first language is not English.

And don’t forget to assess the risks faced by anyone else on your premises: Clients, maintenance workers, contractors, members of the public.

Assessing the risks

Your next step is quantifying the risks. What can be done to minimise or control the risks from the hazards you have noted.

It’s up to you to prioritise based on the level of risk. Obviously the bigger the risk, the more robust your control measures put into place should be.

Controlling the risks

  • What do you already have in place to control the risks?
  • What further action do you need to take?
  • Who can carry this out?  Do you need to engage an expert?
  • When does this need to be done by?
  • Are there any activities that need to stop until changes are made?

Remember it is not your job to eliminate risk completely – that would be impossible. It’s about taking appropriate steps to make your workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable.

Ways you can make your workplace safe might include:

  • Redesigning systems of work/introducing safe systems of work.
  • More robust housekeeping procedures.
  • Replacing faulty machinery or equipment.
  • Adding signs and posters to remind people of safe processes.
  • Reorganising the layout of work areas.
  • More or better storage/shelving solutions.
  • Having workstations/DSE properly arranged.
  • Training staff as DSE assessors or provide a DSE workshop/DSE assessments.
  • Staff training ie in safe manual handling techniques.
  • Providing PPE.
  • Safe storage of substances harmful to health (consider a COHSS risk assessment)
  • Eliminating the need to work from height (read more here about safe working at height and working at height risk assessment).
  • Maintain electrical equipment and replace faulty items/sockets.

Fire Risk Assessment
Employers (and/or building owners or occupiers) must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and keep it up to date. This shares the same approach as health and safety risk assessments and can be carried out either as part of an overall risk assessment or as a separate exercise. You can start by downloading the Fire Safety Risk Assessment Checklist.

Record the findings of your risk assessment

Your risk assessment should show the precautions you have taken are reasonable and the remaining risk is low

Employers with five or more staff are required by law to record in writing the main findings of the risk assessment.  This record provides proof that the assessment was carried out, and is used as the basis for a later review of working practices.

Review your assessment

The risk assessment is a working document and should be reviewed and updated as and when it’s appropriate.  It’s an important part of the process but often overlooked.

There is no set timetable for reviewing assessments; it is something you should revisit periodically to ensure it is still relevant and that the safe working practices are being adhered to.  For instance, you might decide your risk assessment is no longer valid  due to significant changes to the workspace layout or to working practices, or when there is an accident, near miss or work-related ill health.

Keep a record of your reviews and of any changes you make.

What about people working from home?

If you have people working from home as a temporary measure due to the current crisis, you do not need to carry out a home workers risk assessment at this time. You should, however, provide them with advice on completing their own assessment to ensure their work areas is as safe and comfortable as it can be. Fill in the form below to receive our Home Worker Self-Assessment Checklist.

If the working from home is to be a long term arrangement,  then the risks associated with working from home must be controlled. Read more here.

Remember, this isn’t about eliminating all risk nor is it about creating huge amounts of paperwork. It is about making your workplace as safe as it can be by identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

Need more help?

For help with your risk assessments, get in touch. We can offer you: