Step by step guide to risk assessment

1. Decide who is the best person to carry out the assessment. In many workplaces a senior manager or health and safety officer will be the appropriate person. However, where there are specific hazards, such as dangerous substances, it may be necessary to use the services of a specialist.

2. Be clear in your thinking and terminology. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm. A risk is the measure of the likelihood of harm occurring combined with its severity. For example, a corrosive substance such as a concentrated acid is a hazard, but as long as it is properly packaged and stored, the risk is relatively low. However, when it is being handled or poured, the same hazard has a much greater risk.

3. Physically inspect the workplace to identify all significant hazards. It may be tempting to think that you know the place so well that you do not need to do this. You may be aware of all of the machinery and equipment in use and all too familiar with problem areas such as blind corners or uneven floors, but for risk assessment you need to look again and with fresh eyes. This does not mean that you have to get bogged down in minutiae – most activities involve some level of risk, however small. Your purpose is to identify significant risks which could result in serious harm.

4. Consult with workers and their representatives. Those who are working in the area on a day to day basis will have far more insight and awareness of hazards than an outside observer who is passing through.

5. If your business operates on a number of sites, make sure that they are all covered by your risk assessment. If you share a workplace with another employer, consider any risks from the activities of those with whom you share.

6. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for any equipment to ensure that it is being properly used and maintained. Check the manufacturer’s instructions/recommendations for the handling and storing of any materials.

7. Check your accident books and workers’ health records. Accidents and illnesses which recur may indicate a hazard.

8. When you have identified the significant hazards, consider who might be harmed and how. Your responsibility for health and safety extends beyond your own employees. You must also take into account:

• Visitors and members of the public;
• Agency temps and contractors;
• Those on work placements.

Pay particular attention to vulnerable groups, for example:

• The young and inexperienced;
• Disabled workers;
• Home workers;
• Those whose work involves travelling;
• Those who are required to work alone,
• Expectant mothers. Always bear in mind the possibility that a woman might be pregnant, even though you may not have been notified as such.

9. Give careful consideration to the identified risks. Answer the following questions:

• Are there existing precautions in place?
• How effective are they?
• Do you need to take further action?
• Have you have complied with any specific legal requirements relating to your particular industry or sector?
• Have you complied with industry standards?

Then decide what risks remain and who might be harmed. Categorise the risks as high, medium or low.

10. Draw up a list of actions which will eliminate or minimise the risks. Prioritise high risks and those which will affect most people. Ideally, you should aim to eliminate the risk altogether. If this is not possible, consider ways of reducing the risk to an acceptable level. Additional safety measures need not be complex or costly. For example, it may be appropriate to:

• Introduce new systems or procedures which will reduce exposure to the hazard;
• Prevent or restrict access to the hazard;
• Issue protective clothing or equipment;
• Display warning signs.

11. Record the findings of the risk assessment. For each identified, significant risk, make a note of who might be harmed, any existing precautions which are in place and any additional corrective action which is required. Where existing precautions are already recorded in another document, for example in a health and safety manual, the risk assessment can refer to the other document rather than repeat the same information in detail.

12. Set a date to review the risk assessment. Businesses rarely stand still. Rather, they are dynamic and subject to constant change. New working practices or equipment will give rise to new hazards. Risk assessments need to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis to take account of changing circumstances. Even when there are no apparent changes, risk assessments should be reviewed regularly to check that existing precautions are working effectively.