All businesses, large and small and operating across all sectors should undertake a health and safety risk assessment to ensure their workplace and workers are kept safe.
Although small businesses with under 5 employees are not legally obliged to produce a written health and safety risk assessment (providing the workplace does not pose a risk to other workers or members of the public), all organisations and those who interact with them will ultimately benefit from having one in place.
The process of a health and safety risk assessment involves identifying all hazards, considering who is at risk of harm from them, evaluating the risks and taking necessary precautions. For organisations with 5 or more employees, the findings of the assessment will need to be compiled in writing. Once the assessment is completed, it will then need to be reviewed and updated periodically.
All hazards throughout the workplace will need to be identified. Hazards can be compiled by walking around the workplace, considering any way in which people could potentially be harmed. All activities, processes and substances that could cause harm need to be considered.
As well as accidents, anything that might cause long-term damage to health, such as noise and causes of work-related mental health problems need to be recognised.
Who is at Risk?
Once you’ve considered all potential hazards, you must then consider who is at risk; something that will enable you to think more deeply about how the risk can be controlled.
As well as staff members, consider all groups of people who might be at risk, such as customers, visitors, contractors, and pay close attention to the requirements of pregnant women and workers with disabilities who may require special considerations.
Once hazards and those at risk have been highlighted, levels of risk and how they can be managed need to be established.
It is just not realistic to completely eliminate all risk and there are also unforeseeable risks that can’t be controlled. However, the law requires us to do what we reasonably can to manage risks responsibly.
Each hazard needs to be evaluated and it needs to be decided whether or not they can be controlled altogether, or to render them less likely. Depending on the risk, it may be controlled by providing personal protective equipment, blocking access to the hazard, or by providing washing facilities, as examples.
Writing A Risk Assessment
Once the risk assessment has been completed, it needs to be documented in writing. Although this is a legal requirement with 5 or more employees, it is recommended for organisations of all sizes. When the assessment is in writing, it can then be reviewed and augmented at a later date.
A good risk assessment needs to communicate that a check was made, that all of the significant hazards have been addressed and that staff members were involved in the process. Hazards should be featured in order of importance, starting with the most significant.
For more information on compiling your own health and safety risk assessment, including access to assessment templates, visit the HSE website here.