As an employer, you must provide a safe place to work for every member of staff. This includes keeping your workplace clean and tidy, ensuring there are no hazards, and taking reasonable steps to eliminate potential harm. To do so, you should undertake a risk assessment.
A risk assessment is a legal requirement for employers because they establish the potential of any item - or piece of equipment, causing harm in the workplace. Failure to use them can have severe consequences for your business, including claims to an employment tribunal, financial loss, and reputational damage.
In this guide, we'll discuss risk assessments and risk management, as well as how to maintain existing control measures and implement them.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is the process of evaluating factors at work that potentially cause harm or ill health. The process includes identifying hazards, assessing their potential risks, and putting safety measures in place to remove - or reduce the risk.
For example, a risk assessment might reveal that certain work activities pose more risk than others e.g. exposure to burns. Consequently, you might ask employees to wear PPE when performing them.
Why is the risk assessment process important?
The risk assessment process is important because it helps keep your employees safe, whilst performing workplace activities. Specifically, it prevents human injury, because your risk assessment will reveal which individuals could be harmed by which hazards.
It also creates a level of awareness amongst your staff, mainly because you're emphasising the importance of Health & Safety at work. Additionally, if you consistently provide them with training and resources, they'll likely pick up safer control measures as time goes on.
Risk assessments also ensure legal compliance. According to the Health and Safety Authority, the law states all employers should have a safety statement. A safety statement is a written action programme for safeguarding the Health & Safety of those at work.
Your risk assessment will therefore dictate what information you include in this. For example, you might put what hazards you have identified and how you plan to control them in your safety statement.
Who should perform risk assessments in your work?
You should appoint a competent person to perform risk assessments in your work. A competent person is someone with sufficient training and knowledge in your industry. They should be aware of the potential workplace hazards that an employee could be harmed by.
A competent person should be involved in the process from start to finish. They're responsible for the findings, results, and control measures you need to implement.
When should a risk assessment be carried out?
Ideally, a risk assessment should be carried out annually. This is to ensure your assessment stays updated with the development of your workplace. For example, if you employ more staff - extra equipment, extra work activities and extra people will likely pose more hazards.
However, if your workplace experiences a significant change, such as a relocation, you should carry out the risk assessment sooner.
How do you carry out a risk assessment?
Three steps will aid you when carrying out a risk assessment. Whilst it is a systematic process, it’s also fairly straightforward. The following information provides a short overview of how to carry one out.
Firstly, you must identify hazards within your place of work. Hazards are anything that have the potential to cause injury. Make sure you assess:
- Physical hazards, such as large noises and unguarded machinery.
- Chemical hazards, such as hazardous substances, e.g. exposure to corrosives and irritants.
- Biological hazards, such as viruses or mold.
Think about how people usually work, and how they use equipment. This should be in addition to evaluating what safe or unsafe practices already exist. For uncommon hazards, look back in your accident log for anything unusual and ask yourself whether it still poses a risk.
Assess the associated risks
Once the hazards have been identified, it's time to assess the severity of the associated risks. To do this, you should identify how likely the hazard is to harm an employee's health - and how detrimental this damage could be.
Monitoring the effectiveness of existing control measures is also important during your risk assessment. From the existing controls, you can decide whether there is any further action you need to take to mitigate the risk.
Implement relevant control measures
Finally, having identified the hazards and assessed the risk, it's time to implement the relevant controls. You need to ask yourself:
- Can I remove the hazard completely?
- If not, how likely is it that I can reduce the risk of injury?
If you can remove the hazard, make it a priority to do so. If you can only reduce its harm, place the control measures in place in order of priority. For example, hazards with a higher risk will need more attention to prevent them from causing significant harm or injury.
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You must conduct risk assessments at work. Whilst it is your legal responsibility to maintain risk management, it also keeps your employees safe - as well as ensuring your business remains an attractive place to work.
If you fail to conduct risk assessments in your company, your employees may become seriously injured, or experience ill health. Consequently, they might raise relevant claims to an employment tribunal - where you could face financial loss, and ultimately reputational damage.