We have created this in-depth Health and Safety Workplace Risk Assessment guide with free templates & course to help you learn, use and share across your business. Before we go any further, let’s first understand what we are talking about when referring to workplace risk assessment.
What is a workplace Risk assessment?
A health and safety risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause harm to people.
By identifying the hazards that exist, you can determine whether the risks are adequately controlled.
This process allows a business to prioritise the actions needed to reduce the frequency of work-related injuries and ill-health.
By assessing the risks to your business, you can make informed decisions on what you need to keep your operations running smoothly. But also, to do it in a way that prevents harm to people, the environment and of course, your business!
Ready to learn more? Let’s jump into some more detail with our complete workplace Risk Assessment Guide.
Why is Risk Assessment important?
Now then, why are we concerned about health and safety risk assessment?
Risk assessment is one of the fundamental themes of any health, safety or environmental management system.
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 workplace risk assessment can vary wildly, but for most, it’s best to keep it simple.
Is a Risk Assessment a legal requirement?
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. In many countries, including the UK, Ireland, United States and Australia, workplace risk assessment is mandatory as part of health and safety regulations.
If you don’t carry out a risk assessment for your work activities, you leave your employees and your business at risk of significant loss. This can manifest in a myriad of ways, including substantial direct cost, fines, loss of insurance and even severe criminal charges and custodial sentences.
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.
It makes sense, because you have to be able to effectively communicate the outcomes of them.
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! We have some workplace Risk Assessment Examples available to help, if you need a helping hand.
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 workplace risk assessment…
How to do a Risk Assessment
Now that you’ve got Risk Assessment Template to practice on, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty.
Sometimes people get a little freaked out when confronted with the question ‘Do you know how to do a risk assessment?’.
Let alone being asked to actually be the main person responsible for them! But it doesn’t have to be overly complex and this section of our risk assessment guide will show you why.
Firstly, let’s provide some context to the question. If you are an employer, what does workplace 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 (control measures) to prevent that harm from happening.
5 Steps of Risk Assessment
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
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.
If you’d like to get more ideas on how to effectively identify hazards, check out our post on Hazards.
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.
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 health and safety risk assessment process.
In Steps 1 and 2 of our risk assessment guide, 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. If that is the case, you may not have to include the hazard as a significant risk in your health and safety risk assessment.
Step 3 | Assessing the Risk - Severity and Likelihood
The next step in our risk assessment guide is very important – assessing the risk.
A common method of assessing the level of risk is to assign a value to each of two component parts – Likelihood and Severity.
Take a look at the example opposite of a basic risk matrix, that can be used to assess risk.
As you can see from the risk matrix, a combination of Severity x Likelihood = Risk.
As shown in the risk 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 matrix for your workplace 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:
- Likelihood (1-3) – how likely an accident it is that someone will come to harm.
- 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 health and safety 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?
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 3 (Highly Likely).
Risk Matrix – How did we score?
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 workplace 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.
Step 4 | Evaluate Risks & Add Controls
Control measures include actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard.
These risk control strategies can vary extensively in terms of effectiveness, and if the risk is high, multiple layers of control may need to be considered.
So, if we are looking at a specific hazard, how do we assess the options for reducing risk?
When we are considering options to mitigate or reduce risk, we often refer to the ‘hierarchy of control measures’ as part of the workplace risk assessment process.
Now that we’ve determined the risk level using our risk matrix, we need to evaluate the risks i.e. decide if the risks are at a reasonable or acceptable level. Or, if we need to put further control measures in place.
If you’d like to find out more on the process of choosing control measures for your Health and Safety Risk Assessment, listen to our podcast below, keep reading or both! Also, don’t forget you can download your free Risk Assessment Template to complete alongside this risk assessment guide.
The hazard controls in the hierarchy are, in order of decreasing effectiveness:
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls
- Personal protective equipment
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.
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.
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.
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Administrative controls do not remove hazards, but are intended to limit or prevent people’s exposure to the hazards. Here are some more examples;
- Using a banksman to guide the movement of a forklift during a lifting operation
- Performing a frequent racking safety inspection in a warehouse
- Daily pre-use check of a telehandler on a construction site
- Performing an inventory check on approved chemical stored in a lab
- Providing additional safety supervision to manage a non-standard activity
5. Personal Protective Equipment
PPE is the least effective means of controlling hazards and the last line of defense – a severe event will often render PPE ineffective.
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.
Risk Assessment: Swiss Cheese Model
When thinking about risk controls and whether multiple layers of defense are required, it’s useful to remember the ‘Swiss Cheese’ theory.
The Swiss cheese model of accident causation is a simple concept used in risk management across many sectors. As you can see in the diagram >
The Swiss Cheese model likens human systems to multiple slices of swiss cheese, stacked side by side. Here, it proposes that the risk of a threat becoming a reality (accident) is mitigated by the differing layers and types of defenses which are “layered” behind each other.
Therefore, in theory, lapses and weaknesses in one defense do not allow a risk to materialize, since other defenses also exist. In other words, you will not be vulnerable from a single point of failure.
As you can see, when you look into the detail of a task/operation during a workplace 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 workplace risk assessment, we can truly add value for both the employee’s and for the business.
And that should be our aim.
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.
Listen to our Podcast for more on deciding what is Reasonably Practicable…
Defining and Prioritising Actions
For those hazards that require further controls, we need to determine and outline the specific actions required.
To wrap up your workplace 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 workplace 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.
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.
How often should you review Risk Assessments?
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. If you have had an accident in your business, make sure to take a look at or Workplace Accident Investigation Guide.
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
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Join us for a step-by-step, interactive tutorial to give you or your employees the confidence to carry out workplace Risk Assessment.
Workplace Risk Assessment UK | A few reminders..
In the UK, the law states that a workplace 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 these risks worse (or people more susceptible to them).
Workplace 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 workplace 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 health and safety 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.
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