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One of the most important activities that you need to carry out in order to improve your workplace health and safety is the assessment of risk. Risk assessments have even earned themselves a special mention in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.
But so much has been written about risk assessments that employers can often be intimidated by the concept. But there is no need to be! The truth is that a risk assessment is little more than common sense, written down for all to see and understand.
Risk assessment is about:
- Identifying the Hazards
- Assessing the Risks
- Taking Suitable Control Action
- Recording, Reviewing and Using Risk Assessments
What is a hazard?
A hazard is something that can cause harm. A hazard can be an activity or a method of working, for example working on a roof or using a flammable solvent to clean parts and equipment.
The following are typical examples of hazards:
- Forklift trucks
- Substances that might present a risk of ill health
- A heavy box only partly placed on a high shelf, overhanging a busy walkway
- Using a ladder
- Machines such as drill, lathes, pressure washers or chainsaws
Hazard Identification for Risk Assessment:
The identification of hazards is the essential first step that must be undertaken before the assessment of workplace risks can be carried out. The identification of hazards is not complex but a systematic and structured approach will help to ensure that significant hazards are not overlooked.
Review current working practices to see what hazards exist. Consider both normal operation and emergency activities e.g. breakdowns, emergencies, and maintenance work.
- Consider who and how many people could be affected by workplace hazards
- Direct observation of the workplace helps to highlight other hazards that have not been already identified. For occasional or irregular activities, maintenance work and similar you may need to seek further information
Sources of information on workplace hazards
Historic risk data can provide an important resource in assessing your risk and ask those that are most familiar with the work environment. For example:
- The firm's competent person
- Knowledge held by management and employees
- Accident statistics - your firm's data and data available on a national basis for the trade sector (This enquiry should also consider sickness and ill-health records)
- Legislation, Codes of Practice and guidance from enforcing agencies such as HSE
- Codes of Practice and guidance from trade bodies
- Information from suppliers of materials and substances, plant and equipment
What to do next:
- List the hazards identified. View the pro forma
- Assign each hazard a rating for both likelihood and severity
- Multiply the two numbers to give a single figure that will help you to prioritise full risk assessment on the highest priority hazards
You are now ready to start carrying out the task of assessing workplace risks and deciding the controls to put in place
Assessing the Risks
The level of Risk is the combination of the likelihood of injury and the nature or severity of the outcome. Risk also reflects the number of people that might be affected.
Thus a deep hole near the entrance to a factory might result in a badly twisted ankle if someone fell in. But the fact that all employees go past the hole means that the risk is high. In contrast, a shallow hole at the rear of the premises in a place where most people would not be expected to go presents a much lower risk of injury.
Once the hazards have been identified it is possible to move onto the next step of carrying out a risk assessment. It is a requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations that risk assessments are carried out.
Risk Assessments need to be suitable and sufficient and should focus on the significant risks present in the workplace. It is not necessary to conduct exhaustive risk assessments on every hazard. So, start with those hazards that scored highest during the hazard identification process.
The process of risk assessment consists of the following:
- Determining the existing controls and evaluating their effectiveness
- Assessing any residual risk
- Deciding on any additional controls that might be needed
- Introducing and implementing the controls
- Reviewing risk assessments from time to time and revising as necessary
A pro forma that can be downloaded for use in the workplace is provided here
People at risk
A range of people could be affected by workplace hazards, including:
- Production employees
- Office staff
- Management and Supervisory staff
- Maintenance workers
- Members of the public
- Delivery drivers and other transport employees
- Contractors' employees
It is best to come up with a firm number of employees rather than loose descriptions such as "a few" or "not many". This makes the ranking of hazards easier. Consider:
- Is it just one or two workers who undertake the hazardous activity who might be affected?
- Is the hazard something that affects all or almost all employees?
- Is the hazard one that might affect bystanders e.g. visitors to the premises, or people not engaged in the work itself?
All of the above may be exposed to workplace hazards. Whilst the exact nature and extent of exposure will vary, all must be considered when carrying out risk assessments.
Implementing the Controls
The sole purpose of carrying out a risk assessment is to reduce risk. However, risk assessments are often flawed or ineffective because of the failure to implement any effective control steps or actions.
There are usually controls already in place and these should be assessed to decide whether they are effective. If they are adequate then there is no reason to change them and the risk assessment can simply record the existing controls. Otherwise some new controls will be needed.
Implementing the Controls:
- Existing controls are often already in place. Assess these to determine if they are effective
- If they are, there is no reason to change them, simply record them
- If they're not and leave an unacceptable degree of risk, or if there are no suitable controls, then use the risk assessment to decide what controls are needed and record and implement these new controls
Control actions will fall into one of a small range of types or categories:
- Elimination: Stop using harmful substances; Use a contractor to work on the roof; Repair damaged or dangerous steps
- Enclosure or Containment: Guard a dangerous machine; isolate a noisy machine in a separate room
- Separation or Segregation: Provide walkways segregating pedestrians from workplace traffic; store flammable substances in a separate purpose-built store
- Ventilation or Extraction: Install ventilation equipment to capture and remove harmful substances from the workplace
- Personnel: Limit the number of people exposed, reduce the duration of individual exposure
- Procedural: Provide information, instruction, training and supervision for employees; Develop safe working methods
How to implement suitable controls - A few examples:
- If new guards are needed for a machine then someone must be given the responsibility
- If a need for training has been identified then someone must set up a course or identify a suitable training provider
- If the risk assessment indicates the need for a "rule" such as a ban on smoking or introduction of a permit system then consultation with employees should commence as soon as possible and the appropriate changes introduced
Recording, Reviewing and Using Risk Assessments
- Recording: Risk assessments need to be recorded wherever the risks are significant. Recording provides a basis for monitoring health and safety controls and indicates training needs, thus aiding the development of suitable training programmes. Written risk assessments also provide excellent training material for new employees.
- Reviewing: Risk assessments should not be regarded as fixed, unchanging documents and should be subject to regular review. If there are no changes or developments in the workplace, no new machinery has been purchased and production processes have remained unchanged then reviews can take place on a routine basis, perhaps every 12-24 months.
- Using Risk Assessments: Any change in the workplace, from the introduction of new machinery to changes in work practices should lead to a review of the risk assessment. As new hazards are introduced or existing hazards eliminated; existing controls may not be sufficient or effective. Finally, whenever an accident occurs the risk assessment should be reviewed as part of the investigation process. It may be that the initial assessment failed to identify a hazard or that the control that had been implemented was not effective at reducing risk or was not being followed or used. A review of a risk assessment following an accident is an essential part of the learning process, leading to continual improvement in health and safety management.
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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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