What is a risk assessment?

Blogs 18 Jun 2021

Stay safe with our guide to workplace risk assessments from health and safety specialists. Learn how to conduct one and how to put it into practice.

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A big part of running a company is controlling the risks related to health and safety in the workplace. This is where a risk assessment plays an important role in everyday business.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is the process of identifying, understanding and evaluating potential hazards in the workplace concerning the day-to-day running of a company. If you employ five or more staff, you must record your findings in writing. 

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, it's a legal requirement that involves identifying sensible measures to control those hazards and risks if:

  • you are an employer
  • your work activity is mentioned in regulations, such as construction, agriculture or working with gas
  • your work poses risks to the health and safety of others

This ranges from making sure the environment is safe for employees or visiting clients, to ensuring equipment is safe for staff to use.

If you’re self-employed and unsure if the law applies to you, the Health and Safety Executive provides examples for a range of self-employed job scenarios.

How to conduct your assessment

The process of successfully carrying out a risk assessment involves:

  • Identifying the hazards – what are the workplace risks that could harm someone?
  • Identifying who might be harmed – who is most at risk of harm because of the hazards identified?
  • Evaluating the level of risk ­– how likely is it that harm will occur and what changes or protective measures can you put in place to prevent this?

1. Identify the key hazards

Carrying out a risk assessment accurately should first involve identifying the potential hazards in your company. A good way to do this is to walk around all areas of your workplace and make a note of anything that could cause harm – from problems concerning your infrastructure to processes and substances you use, which could injure your staff or be hazardous to their health.

Examples of hazards could include:

  • Exposed high-voltage equipment or machinery
  • Computer cables trailing across the floor
  • A slippery section of a shop floor
  • A poorly lit warehouse that holds heavy stock
  • Toxic chemicals used in your factory with the potential to cause harm   

During hazard identification, it’s also a good idea to check instruction manuals for equipment and machinery, or the chemicals you use, to understand hazards that may otherwise not be clear. Discover the top 10 causes of liability and property claims - and how you can improve your risk management.

2. Identify who might be at risk

Think about who might be affected by each hazard and how. This includes employees and people outside your business that might not be in the workplace all the time, such as customers, visiting clients, or contractors. When identifying staff, it’s also best to put employees into groups – people using machinery or working in the warehouse, for instance.

Are there any employees who might be affected by hazards that develop after a long period of time? This could be members of your team who use certain equipment for extended periods during the day, or those regularly exposed to noisy machinery or harmful substances.

Consider speaking to your staff to see what they think the hazards are in your company. As they are the ones working for you each day, they might notice hazards you haven’t. They could have some good ideas of how best to control the risks. You can also make sure they think what you plan to do will work and won’t present any further hazards.

3. Evaluate levels of risk and prevent hazards

The next stage of carrying out a risk assessment is evaluating the risk of each hazard occurring. For instance, is the risk high, like someone falling on a very slippery floor, or is it low, such as someone falling off a ladder up to a high shelf or piece of scaffolding?

The aim of doing this isn’t to eliminate all risks – it’s worth remembering that risks are part of everyday life. This is about knowing what the main risks are and what you need to do to manage them reasonably and practicably.

When it comes to considering changes that might need to be made to prevent any risks, the work doesn’t need to be costly. Affordable changes can be quick and effective. For instance, you could use higher voltage light bulbs for a poorly lit warehouse or fit a guard to exposed dangerous machinery.

Other things to consider include:

  • Preventing access to a hazard, such as with signage
  • Organising staff shifts to reduce their exposure to a hazard
  • Providing protective equipment and first aid

4. Put your risk assessment into practice

Once you’ve agreed on the changes you’ll make to your workplace, you should consider making a list of the actions that will be done, known as control measures, and tick them off when complete.

Some trade associations and employee bodies have model assessments that can help make sure employers don’t miss anything when carrying out a risk assessment. However, it’s still important to adapt these models to your place of work. Keep in mind that one business can pose different hazards to another, even if they’re both in the same industry.

You should display your risk assessment so your staff can see it, like in the staff room or on your company intranet. Also, consider making the assessment part of the induction process for when new staff join your company.

5. Review your risk assessment

You should review your regularly to make sure it's still fit for purpose. It will need updating when changes in your workplace are made so that you are compliant with safety at work regulations. For example:

  • Making changes to your business, such as processes staff must follow to carry out certain tasks
  • Redesigning your office layout, extending part of a building, or revamping your company premises
  • An incident happens or you discover current procedures are failing

Download your free risk assessment template

Carrying out risk assessments is a key part of health and safety in business. FSB members can download a free risk assessment template from FSB Legal Hub. With access to health and safety factsheets and documents, as well as advice on policies and regulations from experts in the field, you’re in safe hands.

Take the risk out of protecting your business

Whatever your sector, FSB Health and Safety takes the stress out of compliance. With workplace health and safety advice from industry experts, as well as online documentation and on-demand training, you’re in safe hands.

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