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.
For guidance on working safely during the coronavirus pandemic, see our guide to COVID-19 risk assessments.
Explaining risk assessment and how to conduct one
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. It involves identifying sensible measures to control those hazards to ensure the safety of staff. This ranges from making sure the environment is safe for employees to work in to ensure equipment is safe for them to use.
The process of successfully carrying out a risk assessment, involves:
- Identifying the hazards – what could harm your employees when doing their job
- Identifying who might be harmed – employees most at risk of harm because of the hazards identified
- Evaluating the level of risk – deciding how likely harm will occur and proposing changes to prevent it
Identifying 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 hazard 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
To help identify hazards, 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.
Identifying who might be at risk
In addition to identifying hazards, it’s important to identify 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.
It’s also important to think about staff who might be affected by hazards that develop after a long period of time. This could be employees who use certain equipment for extensive 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.
Evaluating levels of risk and preventing hazards
The next stage of carrying out a risk assessment is deciding on the level of 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. Cheap changes can be quick and effective. For instance, using higher voltage light bulbs for a poorly lit warehouse, or fitting 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
Putting 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, and tick them off when complete.
It’s worth mentioning that 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.
Reviewing your risk assessment each year to make sure it still works is also important. It will probably need updating when changes in your workplace are made too.
How FSB can help with risk assessments
Carrying out risk assessments is a key part of health and safety in business. We help members in this area by:
- Providing access to free health and safety fact sheets and documents, including about risk assessments
- Locating relevant health and safety regulations for your business
- Offering health and safety policy advice from experts in the field