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Health and Safety Risk Assessment – Beginner’s Guide

Health and Safety Risk Assessment – Beginner’s Guide
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We have created some in-depth audio, visual and written learning resources to give you foundational knowledge on key health and safety concepts. 

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 in to some more detail….

What is Health and Safety 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.

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 businesses, it’s best to keep it simple.

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 risk assessment for our business, including moral, legal and of course, financial. 

Your obligation as an employer in the UK is that you must risk assess the work activities that 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. 

When should a Risk Assessment be carried out?

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

However, 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.

‘Significant hazards’ – this is vitally important when considering risks. In other words, in the UK, the HSE is explicitly saying that you are not expected to eliminate or control every hazard or activity, regardless of how small or trivial it is.

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

How to do a Health and Safety Risk Assessment

Sometimes people get a little freaked out when confronted with the question ‘What is 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 ‘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

what is health and safety risk assessment 5 steps Safeti


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. Listen to our podcast for more ideas on identifying hazards.

It is essential to also consider the potential long-term impacts to health, such as from exposure to noise or dust.

Unless the risk is increased during work activities, ‘everyday’ risks should not be included. Such as using a kettle to boil water in the kitchen, for example. 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.

Step 3: Assessing the Risk – Severity and Likelihood 

These two elements should be assessed and given 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?

health and safety risk assessment matrix
Example of a Risk Matrix

The example above is a simple ‘Risk Matrix’ – this type of simple diagram allows you to rank the level of risk for a particular activity. The one shown is quite simplistic, but it does the job for most applications. 

The intention of a risk matrix is not to provide a specific, ‘quantitative’ measurement of risk. It does, however, allow the risk assessor to prioritise according to risk level. As you can see from the diagram, a combination of Severity x Likelihood = Risk.

It’s up to us to decide the following:

  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 fits the chance of the outcome happening – Very Likely (3), Possible (2) or Unlikely (1)

Once we’ve taken a not 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 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?

health and safety risk assessment severity and likelihood

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

Hopefully you will agree that the potential severity of the injuries could be very high (if not fatal). So, 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 would you score it?

Considering that there the driver is moving with a raised load (obscured view) and that there is no physical segregation between the person and the forklift. We would have to say that a collision is very likely.

Step 4: Evaluate Risks & add 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.

For those that require further controls, we need to determine and record specific actions. Responsibility should be assigned to those who are required take action and a programme for completion agreed.

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, listen to our podcast below.

risk assessment control measures
Step 5: Record and Review

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

Make sure to only include the significant risks. Keeping it simple and easy to read is important for training purposes.

Let’s summarise what we’ve discussed with a little animated video on the 5 steps of risk assessment…

HSE Risk Assessment 5 Steps - Animated Video

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 send them to here 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.

Health and Safety Risk Assessment Template

Wait, before you go!

Here’s a copy of the risk assessment template and H&S policy document provided by the Health and Safety Executive to get you started….

For more helpful tips and information on health and safety, check out our Guide to Health and Safety UK. Also, make sure to check our podcasts Safeti School & the Safeti Podcast for awesome audio insights into Health, Safety and Environment.

If your business needs any help with health and safety, you can find out more about our Support Services over here.

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