Conducting a health and safety risk assessment is a vital task to stay compliant.
After all, without taking a close look at your working environment to identify the hazards that are present and assess the effectiveness of your controls, how can you be sure that workplace is safe and that you are abiding by all relevant laws?
When it comes to health and safety, adopting a proactive approach is key. But where do you start with risk assessment? What are the elements employers need to cover? And what should happen next?
Here’s a rundown of everything employers need to know in order to conduct a thorough and thought-provoking risk assessment of their premises from which positive changes to the working environment working practices can be made.
What is a risk assessment, and do I need one?
Put simply, a risk assessment is a careful examination of what, in your workplace, has the potential to cause harm to people – whether that be employees, volunteers or members of the public.
Under Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 (HSWA), employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and anybody else who might be affected by their activities. In order to fulfil this duty, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that employers must conduct a risk assessment of their premises to identify these potential causes of harm and take steps to reduce the likelihood of accidents.
As part of your risk assessment, you should:
- Identify possible causes of harm within the workplace and who may be harmed;
- Evaluate the likelihood of that harm occurring given the safeguards you have in place; and
- Put in place further safeguarding measures where necessary to reduce the risk to as low a level as reasonably practicable.
The aim is to decide what steps are needed to reduce injury and ill health and comply with health and safety law. With rising health and safety fines and the HSE more rigorously pursuing enforcement action against those found to be in material breach of health and safety law, it’s more important than ever to ensure risk is appropriately managed in order to avoid significant financial penalties and damage to your reputation.
If you employ five or more members of staff, it is a legal requirement to keep a written record of the the main findings of your risk assessment. Even if you have fewer than five members of staff, it’s good practice to document your risk assessments, as this will help you to demonstrate the steps you have taken to create a safe and compliant working environment.
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How do I conduct a risk assessment?
Tackling a risk assessment can seem like a substantial task; however, it can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps. You may wish to structure your risk assessment around our simple six-step approach:
- Identify hazards;
- Decide who might be harmed;
- Evaluate the risk level;
- Decide whether existing risk controls are sufficient;
- Keep a record of the findings; and
- Monitor and review.
In identifying hazards, you may have noticed that some risks have already been addressed. As an employer, it is your legal duty to reduce the remaining ‘residual risk’ to as low a level as is ‘reasonably practicable’.
It is important to note that you are not expected to completely eliminate all risks. The HSE advise that the risk assessment process is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork; it is about identifying and implementing sensible and proportionate control measures to keep risk to a minimum.
I’ve done a risk assessment – what happens next?
Once you’ve identified potential hazards and evaluated your existing controls, you should create a Prioritised Action Plan that details what new or remedial measures are needed and sets a timescale for reducing risk.
- High-risk activities should normally be tackled immediately;
- Medium risks in days/weeks; and
- Low risks in months.
In some cases, no action will be needed. However, you must make sure you’re complying with the law by reducing risk to as low a level as reasonably practicable.
Ellis Whittam’s qualified consultants will work with you to create and execute a Prioritised Safety Action Plan, which will ensure all necessary steps are taken to rectify any health and safety shortcomings uncovered by your risk assessment.
How often do I need to conduct a risk assessment?
Risk assessments are living documents and should be reviewed at least annually. There are a number of things that may also prompt a review sooner than planned, including:
- Accidents, ill health and dangerous occurrences (or ‘near misses’);
- Significant changes to personnel or work practices; and
- If there is a reason to believe that the current risk assessment is no longer valid.
Generally speaking, whenever there is a change that could lead to new hazards, or a suggestion that existing controls aren’t effective, an up-to-date risk assessment will be required.
Who should do the Risk Assessment?
Risk assessments can be carried out externally by experienced Health & Safety Consultants or you can assess the risks yourself with the help of standard Risk Assessment guide.
However, while you may be tempted to tackle the process internally, organisations should only conduct risk assessments themselves if they confidently understand what’s involved.
The Management Regulations state that employers must have health and safety assistance from ‘competent persons’. In other words, whoever does the risk assessment must be able to make sure that you’re complying with health and safety law.
Importantly, your competent persons must have “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities” in order to be able to identify risks and evaluate how effectively those risks are being controlled.
When deciding whether an individual can be considered ‘competent’, you should ask yourself:
- Have they had relevant training, such as a course accredited by IOSH?
- Do they have practical knowledge and experience of managing health and safety?
- Do they have the appropriate skills and technical ability to develop solutions to problems?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advise that if you are not confident in your ability to manage health and safety internally, you can appoint an external Health & Safety specialist to act as one of your legally required competent persons.
Take the stress out of risk assessment
In identifying and evaluating health and safety risks, much depends on the activity and organisation – and there can be no ‘one size fits all’ assessment. The duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is therefore a heavy one, and one which requires specialist expertise.
If you’re not confident that you have the sufficient training, experience or knowledge to take on a risk assessment yourself, Ellis Whittam can do this for you at your premises.
In addition to on-site risk assessment support, your dedicated Health & Safety Consultant will:
- Act as one of your legally-required competent persons to ensure you meet the requirements of health and safety law and are prepared for HSE inspections;
- Expertly create a Health & Safety Policy and Health & Safety Handbook tailored to your organisation; and
- Ensure you are kept up to date with changes to legislation and best practice so that you can operate with complete confidence.
Health & Safety Software: The simple solution to risk assessment
Included as part of our core Health & Safety service, our award-winning Health & Safety Software will revolutionise your approach to auditing.
Here, you can monitor and control the actions identified in your General and Fire Risk Assessment, assign ownership to those responsible for actioning each task, and pull your data into one risk status indicator.
Talk to the professionals
Health and safety law is vast, complex and constantly changing, and if you’re not an expert, it can be easy to miss the mark. That’s why thousands of businesses across the UK trust Ellis Whittam to expertly manage their compliance and take the pressure off day-to-day health and safety management.
Our network of specialist Heath & Safety Consultants have recognised Health & Safety qualifications and over 350 years’ combined experience of keeping clients safe. Owing to the expertise of our consultants and our ability to find workable solutions to any health and safety challenge, we reduce the risk of being served with an enforcement notice by 60% compared to the national average.
If you’re looking for risk assessment support, facing a health and safety issue, or keen to elevate your current practices, Ellis Whittam is best placed to support you and keep your organisation on the right side of the law.
For more information, call 0345 226 8393 or request a consultation using the button below.
Health & Safety Guides
Is a risk assessment a legal requirement?
Yes. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all employers, regardless of size or sector, must undertake a “suitable and sufficient” assessment of the health and safety of risks their employees are exposed to while at work, as well as the risks to any non-employees (customers, visitors, contractors, etc.) who may be affected by their activities. If you employ five or more employees, it is a legal requirement to keep a written record of your assessment and significant findings.
For each hazard identified, you must implement suitable control measures to eliminate the risk of harm occurring or, where this isn’t possible, reduce the risk to as low a level as is “reasonably practicable”.