Risk Assessment Guide

Health and Safety Risk Assessment – The Essential Guide 2020

We have created this free, in-depth Health and Safety Risk Assessment guide for you to use and share. As this guide is quite detailed, you may want to jump to a specific section using the contents menu! 😉

Why Health and Safety Risk Assessment?

So then, why health and safety risk assessment?

Risk assessment is one of the fundamental themes of any health, safety or environmental management system.

By assessing the risks to your business, you can make informed decisions on what you need to keep your operations running smoothly and prevent harm to people, the environment and your business.

Let’s jump into some more detail with our complete Risk Assessment Guide… 

What is a Risk assessment?

A health and safety risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause harm to people. This helps identify the actions you need to take to prevent injury and ill-health. 

Watch our 4-minute video for a quick overview….

Risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

The complexity of a risk assessment can vary wildly, but for most, it’s best to keep it simple.

COVID-19 Risk Assessment

If you are confused about what to do and what not to do during the COVID 19 pandemic when it comes to your workplace, you are not alone. 

Even amongst the Occupational Safety and Health profession, debate continues to rage on. Of course, this isn’t the time for conflicting opinions.

You should refer to your local COVID-19 guidance to help open up our businesses and protect employees.

We’ve broken the latest UK guidance down for you in our COVID 19 Risk Assessment post.

Is Health and Safety Risk Assessment important?

Risk assessment is often seen as a thankless activity that has to be done, with little real benefit. But why do we have to do it? 

There are plenty of good reasons that we should carry out risk assessment for our businesses, including moral, legal and of course, financial. 

Unfortunately, the term ‘health and safety risk assessment’ has gained bad press in some quarters, due to over-zealous approaches to risk management. 

It doesn’t need to be that way. This guide will help you decide what’s reasonable for your business.

When should a Risk Assessment be carried out?

In reality, the Health and Safety Executive in the UK clearly states that risk assessments should not be unnecessarily complicated and only focus on the significant hazards – which makes sense, because you have to be able to effectively communicate the outcomes of them.

In the UK, your obligation as an employer is that you must risk assess the work activities for which your employees are involved.

If you have 5 or more employees, you have to keep a record of any risk assessment that you have done. But don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it sounds!

Should I control all the hazards?

The term ‘significant hazards’ is explicitly used by the HSE. This is vitally important when considering risks. In other words, in the UK, the HSE is quite clearly saying that you are not expected to eliminate or control every hazard or activity, regardless of how small or trivial it is.

You are not expected to pour resources toward ‘everyday hazards’. Nor should you concentrate on hazards that are not specific to the workplace or a by-product of the work activity.

With that in mind, let’s look at how you might go about doing a risk assessment…

Free Risk Assessment Template

Would you like a free health and safety risk assessment template that aligns with what you will learn in this Beginner’s Guide?

If the answer was a resounding yes, you can download our free, editable PDF right here.

For more freebies, visit our Health and Safety Templates page. Hopefully they will get you off to a flying start with your documentation.

How to do a Risk Assessment

Sometimes people get a little freaked out when confronted with the question ‘How to do a risk assessment?’. Let alone being asked to actually do one! But it doesn’t have to be overly complex.

Firstly, let’s provide some context to the question. If you are an employer, what does risk assessment mean for you?

It’s written into UK law that employer’s must control risk by assessing what might cause harm. They then need to take reasonable steps to prevent that harm from happening.

Let’s look at a simple the ‘HSE Risk Assessment 5 Steps‘ approach that you can use everyday to carry out risk assessment in your workplace.

Health and Safety Risk Assessment 5 Steps
HSE Risk Assessment 5 Steps
Risk Assessment 5 Steps

Before we go through the Risk Assessment 5 Steps in detail, why not listen to our short podcast below as an introduction? 

One you have grasped the concept, you will be ready to go into more depth with our detailed guide to the 5 steps of risk assessment.

Step 1: Determine the key Hazards

Ask yourself ‘what could harm someone and how?

Firstly, check accident records to identify any previous workplace injury or illness

Secondly, refer to manufacturer’s guidelines for safe guidance on how to operate plant and equipment

We mustn’t forget to consider non-routine or infrequent work activities. Watch our Safeti School podcast or video below for more ideas on how to identify hazards in your workplace.

It is essential to also consider the potential long-term impacts to health e.g. from exposure to noise or dust.

Unless the risk is increased during work activities, ‘everyday’ risks should not be included. For example, using a kettle to boil water or walking up and down a flight of stairs.

Step 2: Identify ‘Who might be harmed?’

Ask yourself who will be exposed to a particular risk. This might be primarily your own employees. But, there are also other groups of people (or animals!) who may be affected in different ways.

A good example would be the impact of a construction project being carried out in a live hospital environment. Those affected may include patients, staff and the general public, for example.

who can be harmed and how
HSE Risk Assessment: Who can be harmed and how?

If you are carrying out a health and safety risk assessment, it’s important to be aware of those within and outside the workforce who may be more vulnerable.

When thinking about people who may be at increased risk, the most common examples would be young people, those with medical conditions, the elderly or pregnant women. Identifying ‘who might be harmed’ provides you with the chance to add specific or additional control measures later in the risk assessment process.

In Steps 1 and 2 you’ve identified where there’s a potential hazard, recognised who might be in danger and determined how it might affect them.

We now need to consider how bad the harm might be and also how likely it is to happen. In other words, what is the risk?

 When we refer to risk in relation to occupational safety and health the most commonly used definition is:

risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or suffers adverse health effects if exposed to a hazard.’ It’s as simple as that.

Remember, a hazard may exist but it does not need to present a risk to people or property.

Step 3: Assessing the Risk - Severity and Likelihood 

A very common method of assessing the level of risk is to assign a value to each of two component parts – Likelihood and Severity

As you can see from the risk assessment matrix below, a combination of Severity x Likelihood = Risk.

health and safety risk assessment matrix
Example of a Risk Matrix

As shown in the matrix, the number chosen for each element (Likelihood and Severity) represents a level of significance e.g. high, medium or low.

Severity – How bad is the outcome likely to be i.e. the severity of injury or illness?

Likelihood – What are the chances of it happening with the current controls in place?

Using a risk assessment matrix for your risk assessment allows you to look at each hazard separately and decide how significant the risk might be.

The example above is a basic ‘Risk Matrix’ – it is quite simple, but of course that makes it easy to interpret and it does just fine for most applications. You may find matrices that are much more detailed or complex, but they usually work along the same principles.

It’s important to note, that the intention of a risk matrix is not to provide a specific, ‘quantitative’ measurement of risk. We aren’t ‘measuring’ anything physically. It does, however, allow the assessor to prioritise according to the perceived risk level. 

It’s up to us to decide the following for each hazard or work activity:

  1. Likelihood (1-3) – how likely an accident it is that someone will come to harm.
  2. Severity (1-3) – the seriousness of the potential injury or illness

Firstly, the Likelihood should be determined. We must decide which of the following best reflects the chance of the outcome happening – Very Likely (3), Possible (2) or Unlikely (1)

Once we’ve taken a note of that, we need to look at Severity. How severe would the outcome be if the worst was to happen? – Major Injury (3), Minor Injury (2) or Trivial (1)

When we have assigned a number to both Likelihood and Severity, we can then multiply them to produce our risk rating. 

As you can see, the risk matrix does this for you. It also provides a traffic light colour to make interpretation of the results even easier.

Let’s look at an HSE risk assessment example to explain a little further…

Thinking back to our risk matrix, how would you rate the following scenario (image below) when thinking about the ‘Severity’ and ‘Likelihood’ of a collision between the forklift and a pedestrian?

Workplace Accident Investigation
Health and Safety Risk Assessment - Practice Example

Severity – if a pedestrian was hit by the forklift truck, what might the consequences be? 

The weight, build & function of a counter-balance forklift makes serious injury a common outcome. Hopefully you will agree that the potential severity of the injuries could be very high. In many cases, this type of collision can be fatal. 

So with those factors in taken into account, we would have to score this as a 3 (Major Injury) in our risk matrix.

Likelihood – when considering the chance that a collision would happen in this specific scenario, how likely would it be?

The driver is moving with a raised load (obscured view) and there is no physical segregation between the person and the forklift. The pedestrian is not wearing anything to make him easily visible to the driver.

Given these factors, we would have to say that a collision is highly likely.

How would that look on our Risk Matrix? 
Risk Matrix Markup
Risk Matrix Scoring

If we rate the Severity as 3 (Major) and the Likelihood as 3 (Very Likely), that means we end up with a risk assessment rating of 9.

As you can see if you look back at the risk matrix, 9 is the highest score. This would normally indicate that there is much room for improvement and also that action should be urgently prioritised.

As you can see below, there are lots of factors that will contribute to the likelihood being high or low in your risk assessment. As for severity, there usually aren’t so many variables that will change the degree of harm that will be caused. This is most often the case, unless there is a significant change made to remove the hazard or substitute the methods used.

Health and Safety Risk Assessment - The Essential Guide 2020 1
Risk Matrix - Influencing Factors
Step 4: Evaluate Risks & add Controls
risk assessment control measures
Hierarchy of Controls

We need to decide if the risks are at a reasonable or acceptable level, or if we need to put further control measures in place.

Control measures include actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard. 

Or the control measure could be to remove the hazard or to reduce the likelihood of the risk of the exposure to that hazard being realised.

A simple control measure would be the secure guarding of moving parts of machinery – eliminating the potential for contact.

When we look at control measures we often refer to the hierarchy of control measures. 

If you’d like to find out more on the process of choosing control measures for your HSE Risk Assessment, listen to our podcast below, keep reading or both!

The hazard controls in the hierarchy are, in order of decreasing effectiveness:

  • Elimination
  • Substitution
  • Engineering controls
  • Administrative controls
  • Personal protective equipment

1. Elimination:

Physical removal of the hazard — this is the most effective hazard control.

For example, if employees must work high above the ground, the hazard can be eliminated by moving the piece they are working on to ground level to eliminate the need to work at heights.

ladder reasonably practicable

2. Substitution:

Substitution, the second most effective hazard control, involves replacing something that produces a hazard (similar to elimination) with something that does not produce a hazard — for example, replacing a stepladder with a mobile scaffold.

To be an effective control, the new method must not produce another hazard. Or at least, not present as hazard that has more potential to harm than the previous option.

As airborne dust can be hazardous, if a product can be purchased with a larger particle size (likely to be less harmful), the product with a smaller particle size may effectively be substituted.

The aim here is to reduce the potential for harm, whilst being careful not to introduce new risks.

3. Engineering Controls:

The third most effective means of controlling hazards is engineered controls. These do not eliminate hazards, but rather isolate people from hazards.

Capital costs of engineered controls tend to be higher than less effective controls in the hierarchy, however they may reduce future costs.

For example, a team might decide to build a work platform rather than use fall arrest equipment.

The work platform would usually provide a physical barrier between personnel and falls from height.

PPE Health and Safety Risk Assessment

Other examples of engineering controls would be interlocks on electrical devices (electric shock/electrocution). Guards on grinding and cutting tools to prevent physical contact with blades or rotating devices.  Or, for respiratory protection, LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) systems or fume-hoods can be used to remove harmful airborne materials. 

4. Administrative controls: Administrative controls are changes to the way people work. Examples of administrative controls include procedure changes, employee training, and installation of signs and warning labels.

Administrative controls do not remove hazards, but limit or prevent people’s exposure to the hazards, such as completing road construction at night when fewer people are driving.

5. Personal Protective Equipment: Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes gloves, Nomex/Uniform, respirators, hard hats, safety glasses, high-visibility clothing, and safety footwear.

PPE is the least effective means of controlling hazards because of the high potential for damage to render PPE ineffective. 

Admin Health and Safety Risk Assessment

Additionally, some PPE, such as respirators, increase the physical effort needed to complete a task. Therefore, you may need to consider if workers can use the PPE without further risk to their health.

That wraps up the hierarchy of control – now you can select control measures with confidence.

As you can see, when you look into the detail of a task/operation during a risk assessment, there are often more considerations and options than you may recognise at first glance.

Remember, make sure to only include the significant risks. Keeping it simple and easy to read should be prioritised for communication and training purposes.

The more focused and relevant you can make the health and safety risk assessment, the more effective it will be. Also, when deciding which controls measures to put in place, make sure they are reasonable i.e. they should be proportionate according to the level of risk that exists.

How Do We Decide What is Reasonable?

We need to look at our options and balance the time, cost and effort against the level of risk reduction that we foresee being achieved.

If we can strike the right balance during our risk assessment, we can truly add value for both the employee’s and for the business.

If we have a low severity, low likelihood task. It wouldn’t be reasonable to have to spend lots of money on plant and equipment to further reduce what is already a low risk.

On the other hand, if we have a high likelihood task that presents a significant risk to our employee/s. It starts to make sense to apply greater resources toward mitigating that risk.

In the UK, the term ‘Reasonably Practicable is written into health and safety law. It allows those responsible for health and safety to balance risk reduction against the time, money and effort required.

Watch our short animation to learn more…

For those hazards that require further controls, we need to determine and outline the specific actions required. To wrap up the risk assessment, responsibility should then be assigned to those who are required take action and a programme for completion agreed.

Step 5: Record and Review

Your risk assessment should be recorded and shared with the relevant people.

Communicating the outcomes of the risk assessment is arguably the most important part of the process. Take the time to think about how you will go about doing this.

health and safety risk assessment review

If your team is located locally, it might be possible for you to use the health and safety risk assessment as a discussion topic during a team meeting. In this way, you should be able to get honest feedback on it and find out if there is anything obvious that hasn’t been included.

Alternatively, it may be easiest to email it to people and get them to sign it off digitally, if they are remote workers. In that case, you may want to have a follow-up conversation to ensure they are happy with the content and outcomes.

When should you review a Risk Assessment?

There is no specific frequency at which you should review your risk assessment. However, there are times when it makes most sense.

For instance, if there has been a change in a process, a new piece of plant of equipment introduced, a new worker employed, or if an accident or incident has occurred.

Depending on your business and your internal management system, it may also make sense to have  a regular review of your risk assessments. The purpose of this would be to make sure that you have not missed anything new or significant that could present a risk to employees, or others.

FREE Risk Assessment Course

We’ve created an instructor-led, online course for Risk Assessment. Join us for a step-by-step, interactive tutorial to give you or your employees the confidence to carry out Risk Assessment. Use it completely FREE, for a limited time!

health and safety risk assessment course online
Play Video
Risk Assessment UK - a few reminders..

In the UK, the law states that a risk assessment must be ‘suitable and sufficient’, i.e. it should show that:

  • a proper check was made
  • you asked who might be affected
  • you dealt with all the obvious significant risks, taking into account the number of people who could be involved
  • the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low
  • you involved your workers or their representatives in the process

The level of detail in a health and safety risk assessment should be proportionate to the risk and appropriate to the nature of the work. Insignificant risks can usually be ignored, as can risks arising from routine activities associated with life in general, unless the work activity changes or makes the risks worse.

Whilst that should make life a bit easier for you, there are a few predictable pitfalls which you should try to avoid!

Avoid these 3 Risk Assessment Pitfalls!

Your health and safety risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

Watch our video for some tips on avoiding some of the other very common mistakes!

HSE Risk Assessment 5 Steps - Recap

Let’s summarise what we’ve discussed with a short animated video that recaps the 5 steps of HSE risk assessment – if you find that there’ is a part of the process you didn’t quite grasp, why not revisit that part again in our guide?

Risk Assessment Guide - Complete!

That’s all folks.

The next time someone asks you ‘what is a health and safety risk assessment?’, you’ll not only be able to answer them, but you will be able to explain the steps to carry one out. Or you can point them in the direction of our risk assessment guide to let them find out for themselves!

Remember, it’s not about creating mountains of paperwork but identifying sensible measures to control risk to those affected.

If your business needs any help with risk assessment or any other aspect of health and safety, you can find out more about our flexible Safeti’s flexible support services over here.

What is your biggest Risk Assessment challenge?

Let us know what your biggest risk assessment challenge is by commenting below and we will try to help you tackle it.  Also, you can share this resource with your colleagues and peers , if you found it helpful, via our Social Share buttons.

If you would like to Ask an Expert for help on your risk assessment needs, please get in touch below!

Richard Collins

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