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Conducting Risk Assessments [Hardfacts]


The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 main provision is the need for an employer to conduct risk assessments of his/her work activities and to identify the action needed to control the health and safety risks in the workplace.

The assessment of hazardous operations should not just be a paper exercise diverting scarce management resources from the business of managing.  It should be a practical exercise taking the opportunity to review and evaluate operations and seek improvements.

What is Risk Assessment?

A hazard is something which has the potential to cause harm, e.g., a substance, machine or situation, such as working at heights. A risk is the likelihood that the harm will occur combined with its severity (i.e., the number of people likely to be affected and whether the hazard would cause minor or major injuries or even a fatality). Risk assessment is an evaluation of the chance that harm will occur.

The objective of the risk assessment is to control the risk in a pragmatic manner and for most activities it is not about elimnation of risk.

Conducting Risk Assessments

1) Hazard spotting - Appoint a small group (usually 3 persons) to walk round the workplace and look at what could cause harm, concentrating on significant hazards which could have severe consequences.

During the walk round ask employees for their opinions and what they consider to be significant. The use of accidents/ill health records and manufacturers' instruction/ data sheets can aid in your hazard spotting.

2) Decide who might be harmed and how e.g. employees, cleaners, visitors, delivery personnel, contractors, maintenance, staff, etc.

3) Decide for each hazard whether the risk is high, medium, low or not significant. Have you done everything that the law says you have to? Are industry standards in place? The law says that you must do what is reasonably practicable to keep your workplace safe.

Improving health and safety need not necessarily cost a lot. Some control measures are very simply implemented with no major restraints on budget. For example, non-slip material on slippery steps.

Ask yourself whether you can get rid of the hazard altogether or, if not, how you can control the risk so that harm is unlikely.

Generally, personal protective equipment should only be used when there is nothing else reasonably practicable.

Preventive and protective measures should be implemented as a result of the assessment and these could include such items as avoidance of a risk by elimination or reduction (e.g., buying in dangerous substances in a lesser quantity) or combating a risk at source (e.g., removing spillages from floor areas rather than introducing warning signs).

4) The legal requirement is to record the significant findings of a risk assessment. These should include a list of hazards identified in the assessment, highlighting the types of people who may be at risk. Existing control measures should be identified, if they are in place.

It is necessary to indicate that all risks have been assessed, but only records of those risks assessed as significant need to be kept.

The prime objective of recording an assessment is to indicate that it was done soundly, addressed the significant issues and came to justifiable conclusions. The amount of effort put into recording should be related to the degree of risk and the complexity of the issues involved. The records should also serve purposes that are worthwhile, such as to enable management to identify:

  • the basis for monitoring health and safety controls
  • training programmes needed
  • the standards against which unusual events are judged
  • changes which make re-assessment necessary.

5) From time to time review your assessments and revise as necessary. Fresh hazards will arise from the introduction of new machines, substances and procedures. Significant changes should be added to assessments to take account of new hazards.

There is no need to amend your assessments for trivial changes but new hazards will become apparent and thus you will have a need to review your assessments accordingly.

The review process should be undertaken at least once every five years, or more often if things change or if the risks are high.

6) Make sure that all employees are made aware of the risk assessments and their commensurate control measures via training and communication. Keep a record of all such sessions and asking employees to sign risk assessments is a useful extra step.

Key Action Steps to Conducting Risk Assessments

  • Look for the hazards by making a workplace inspection, talking to staff, reviewing relevant documentation such as manufacturer's and HSE guidance
  • Decide who might be harmed and how
  • Consider the risks arising from the hazards and decide whether existing arrangements are adequate or if more needs to be done to control or reduce risks
  • Make written records of your findings
  • Carry out periodic reviews of your assessments nd make necessary revisions
  • Share the findings of the assessments - and the control measures - with your employees


  • HSE Five Steps to Risk Assessment - IND(G)163 
  • HSE Management of Health and Safety at Work: Approved Code of Practice and Guidance
  • Both of the above documents can be downloaded free from the HSE website:

The HSE website also contains examples of completed risk assessments which are aimed particularly at small businesses to help you get started.


Next Steps:

  • Source discounted products, available to Aviva insured customers and brokers only, via our Preferred Supplier Scheme - click here to find out more about the savings you could make
  • View our Tools and Templates
  • Call our Risk Helpline on 0345 366 66 66
  •  Email us at

Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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