Risk assessments: the employer's duty to assess risk

Paul Logan

July 19 2023

First published: July 19th 2023
Last updated: July 19th 2023

Under Irish health & safety legislation, employers have a legal obligation to identify hazards in the workplace and to assess the risk presented by any workplace hazards.

This process, including the documentation of risks in writing, is commonly known as risk assessment.

What is a risk assessment?

Section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 defines a risk assessment as "a systematic process of evaluating the potential risks that may be involved in a projected activity or undertaking".

As an employer, your duty of care to employees involves putting systems of work in place that ensure all work activity is safe for employees and visitors to the workplace.

The risk assessment process involves consideration of any workplace hazards or activities that could cause harm to employees, contractors, customers or members of the general public who visit your premises.

If you don’t take all reasonable steps to reduce and or eliminate any workplace risks, you could face serious consequences for breaching health & safety legislation.

Three key steps in carrying out a risk assessment

The primary aim of carrying out a risk assessment is to reduce the risk of injury and illness associated with work.

The three key steps involved in an effective risk assessment process are:

  1. identify the hazards
  2. assess the risks
  3. put control measures in place.

The difference between hazards and risks

A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm, injury or ill health to anyone using the workplace. Hazards can include work materials, equipment, work methods or practices, ergonomics or exposure to harmful agents such as chemicals, noise, vibration or poor air quality.

Risk is the likelihood that somebody will be harmed by a hazard and also includes an assessment of the severity of the harm that people are exposed to.

What are control measures?

Control measures are the precautions you put in place to ensure that a hazard will not injure anyone.

The primary aim of a control measure is to eliminate risk but if this is not possible, a control measure must at least minimise the level of risk that employees or visitors to the workplace are exposed to.

Why you should conduct a risk assessment

Many employers avoid completing a risk assessment on the basis that they have no health & safety expertise. They assume that the process will be too technical or that there are no safety risks in their workplace.

This approach puts your business at risk, however. If you fail to consider the safety risks in your workplace operations and identify control measures to minimise those risks, you’re exposing your business to the risks of health & safety prosecutions and personal injury claims.

The business benefits of regular risk assessments

Risk assessments shouldn’t be viewed as a compliance exercise. There are real business benefits to be gained from conducting regular risk assessments including:

  • lower insurance premiums
  • fewer workplace accidents
  • fewer employee claims and compensation awards
  • lower absenteeism
  • better employee morale
  • improved business reputation as a safety conscious employer, and
  • most importantly a better bottom line.

Need help with your next risk assessment?

Not sure how to go about your next risk assessment?

Just call one of our health & safety experts. They’ll walk you through updating your risk assessment and help you identify control measures to make your workplace safe.

For instant health & safety support, call us today on 1800 719 216

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