“As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is known as risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out.”.
This is the basis of risk assessment: identifying who might be harmed and how and then implementing reasonable control measures to reduce the likelihood or eliminate the chance of that harm occurring.
The Five Stages of Risk Assessment
It is widely accepted that there are 5 key stages to the risk assessment process. These are:
- Identify the hazards
- Decide who might be harmed and how
- Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
- Record your significant findings
- Review your risk assessment and update if necessary
Identifying the hazards
What is a hazard? A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm (or adverse effects)! with this in mind…..
Fancy a walk? I do. This is the first thing I do when starting a risk assessment. I have a wonder around the premises/site/office etc. and make notes. I am looking for processes, machinery, substances or situations which could harm people.
Once this ‘list’ is created there are other ways you can see where hazards are present.
The HSE and industry trade associations produce excellent guides. These should be reviewed as they are an excellent source of information for risk assessors. They help identify the hazards associated with particular tasks or processes and are also an excellent source of information when deciding what precautions (control measures) should be applied (see below).
Data sheets for substances or manufacturers information for tools / equipment etc. are another great source of information. They often describe exactly what the hazards are and / or how they should be controlled.
Accident or incident / near miss reports are also useful aids when identifying hazards particularly if there are recurring incidents or trends. If people are coming to harm whilst at work, this is a pretty good indicator that there is a hazard!
Other hazards may arise through non-routine activities such as maintenance or changes in production methods. For example a brand new CNC machine may well have super methods of controlling inherent hazards but what about when guards are removed for maintenance operations or if moving parts / components jam?
Consult employees! The people doing the task are best placed to tell you what the hazards are. Whilst the risk assessment process should be undertaken before anyone is exposed to the hazards, in practice risk assessment is an ongoing process and it is likely that the people doing the task are aware of the hazards and are able to tell you what is being done or needs to be done to control them.
Decide who might be harmed and how
This isn’t about naming names. This is about the identification of ‘groups’ of people who may be exposed to the hazards you have identified in step 1 and understanding how they may be harmed. For example it may be employees carrying out a task. It may be people nearby. It may be both! If a hazard of a particular operation is, for example, parts flying out from a machine, it is likely that both of these groups are exposed to that hazard.
Other groups which may be exposed to hazards are members of the public, contractors, visitors etc. It may even be the employees of another business.
There may also be people who are at increased risk or who have particular requirements. These may include ‘new to the job’ or young workers, new or expectant mothers, migrant workers etc. It may be temporary workers or those who work from home.
Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
The HSE sum it up very well:
“Having identified the hazards, you then have to decide how likely it is that harm will occur; i.e. the level of risk and what to do about it.
Risk is a part of everyday life and you are not expected to eliminate all risks. What you must do is make sure you know about the main risks and the things you need to do to manage them responsibly. Generally, you need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.”
Have a look at the hazards you identified in step 1 and record what you are already doing to control them. It is likely that you already have measures in place to reduce the likelihood of that hazard occurring or even prevent it from happening under normal circumstances altogether.
Identifying what else you should be doing to control the hazard can be tricky but the HSE Guidance documents talks about a ‘hierarchy of control’:
Considering work at height you could:
Redesign the job or substitute a substance so that the hazard is removed or eliminated. For example, duty holders must avoid working at height where they can.
Replace the material or process with a less hazardous one. For example, use a small MEWP to access work at height instead of step ladders. Care should be taken to ensure the alternative is safer than the original.
Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where you cannot avoid working at height. Install or use additional machinery such as local exhaust ventilation to control risks from dust or fume. Separate the hazard from operators by methods such as enclosing or guarding dangerous items of machinery/equipment. Give priority to measures which protect collectively over individual measures.
These are all about identifying and implementing the procedures you need to work safely. For example: reducing the time workers are exposed to hazards (e.g. by job rotation), prohibiting use of mobile phones in hazardous areas, increasing safety signage, etc.
Personal protective clothes and equipment:
Only after all the previous measures have been tried and found ineffective in controlling risks to a reasonably practicable level, must personal protective equipment (PPE) be used. For example, where you cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall (should one occur). If chosen, PPE should be selected and fitted by the person who uses it. Workers must be trained in the function and limitation of each item of PPE.
This hierarchy of control is a useful when deciding on which precautions are required when controlling hazards. Just remember to start at the top and work your way down!
The HSE guidance documents and industry guidance I mentioned before are also great tools as they often describe what control measures are ‘expected’ or ‘good practice’.
Essentially when you are at this stage you are trying to identify if the control measures you have in place are adequate or if you need to do more to protect those you have identified as being at risk.
Record your significant findings
Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down. But it is useful to do this so you can review it at a later date, for example if something changes. If you have five or more employees you are required by law to write it down.
Any paperwork you produce should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.
Your risk assessment needs to be ‘suitable and sufficient’. You must be confident that you are recording risk assessment where:
- a proper check was made
- you asked who might be affected
- you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved
- the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low
- you involved your employees or their representatives in the process
- Remember, the greater the risk the more robust and reliable the control measures will need to be.
Review your risk assessment and update if necessary
Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. So it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis, look at your risk assessment again and ask yourself:
- Have there been any significant changes?
- Are there improvements you still need to make?
- Have your workers spotted a problem?
- Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?
- Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.
So, there you have it! With a little help from the HSE guidance books I have created the above to assist readers with the risk assessment process.
Need some help with Risk Assessment?
If you would like more details or a chat regarding risk assessments of general health and safety matters, please do not hesitate to contact us!