Risk assessment

How to assess the risks

An assessment of what could harm people which helps you decide whether you have adequate precautions in place to prevent anyone from being hurt or from becoming ill.

It enables you to determine whether you have done enough or need to do more.

Who can carry out risk assessments?

The person who carries out the assessment must be competent. People with practical experience and theoretical experience of the workplace to be assessed and have the ability to make an assessment of the problem may be viewed as competent.

Alternatively a recognised health and safety qualification such as NEBOSH will show that a person has the correct training to competently carry out an assessment of risks.

When completing the risk assessments it is important that you involve your staff, particularly the people that are likely to be affected by the hazard.

What do I do?

The HSE recommends that businesses follow five logical steps to carrying out risk assessment:

Step 1 - Identify the hazards

What is a hazard?

Is anything that can cause harm (e.g. chemicals, machinery, electricity etc.)

The best way to look for hazards is to walk around the workplace and decide what could potentially cause harm. Ignore the minor hazards and concentrate on the significant ones (hazards which could result in serious harm or affect several people).

View a list of possible hazards and other relevant issues that may arise from the side menu.

Step 2 - Decide who might be harmed and how.

Also consider:

  • Young workers
  • New and expectant mothers
  • Cleaners 
  • Visitors 
  • Contractors
  • Maintenance workers
  • Members of the public
  • People with whom you may share the workplace

Step 3 - Evaluate the risk

Risk is the chance that somebody will be harmed by a hazard.

  • Decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done.
  • Look at each hazard in turn and consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not you need to do more to reduce the risk. Decide for each significant hazard if the remaining risk is high, medium or low.
  • Give priority to any remaining risks that are high and/or those which could affect most people. Can the hazard be eliminated altogether? If the answer is no then you should take adequate measures to control the risk.

When considering controls the following principles should be applied in the following order:

  1. Try a less risky option
  2. Prevent access to the hazard
  3. Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard 
  4. Issue personal protective equipment

Step 4 - Record your findings

If you have less than five employees then legally you do not have to write anything down although it is useful to keep a written record of what you have done. If you do employ five or more employees you must record the significant findings of your assessment. You must also tell your employees about any findings of your risk assessments.

In particular you need to be able to show that significant hazards are identified and that the precautions taken are reasonable.

Step 5 - Review your assessment and revise if necessary.

Your risk assessments should be revised on a periodic basis and when new equipment, substances and procedures are introduced.

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Updated: 11 August 2009