Business beyond lockdown: How to carry out a risk assessment

Blogs 21 May 2020

For the latest information, guidance and support on coronavirus for small businesses, visit our coronavirus hub.

As UK businesses begin to look towards eased restrictions and opening their doors once again, it’s vital to protect the safety of your employees, customers and clients.

Risk assessments have always been a legal part of business for maintaining health and safety, and they’ll now be crucial for preparing your business for the return to work.

You may need to reassess and implement measures such as social distancing, cleaning routines or staggered shifts. We’ve covered the basics of what you need to know about risk assessments for your workplace, as well as the guidance from the UK Government during this time.

What is a risk assessment?

Carrying out a risk assessment is a legal requirement when running a UK business, but the process can differ from company to company.  A risk assessment involves identifying, understanding and evaluating potential hazards in the workplace. This ranges from making sure the environment is safe for employees to work in, to ensuring equipment is safe for them to use.

Reducing the risk of coronavirus in your workplace

Risk assessments have always been an important part of health and safety law, but now more so than ever it will be important to protect the safety of employees and customers as we begin to return to work.

The UK Government has released detailed guidance or England to help employers, businesses and their employees stay safe as some businesses begin to reopen. For advice to businesses in other nations of the UK, please see guidance set by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government.

Here are some of the considerations your business will need to make – please refer to the full guidance for more information.

  • Take all reasonable steps to enable your employees to work from home where possible
  • Where working from home is not possible, businesses should stay alert and comply with social distancing measures where possible
  • Support vulnerable employees as they follow the guidance recommended
  • Reduce transmission by reviewing if certain activities must continue for your business to operate in circumstances where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of objects and surfaces should be carried out
  • Help reduce the spread of coronavirus by displaying posters and leaflets reminding everyone of the public health advice, such as handwashing
  • Keep everyone updated on the actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure
  • Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus, be clear on any relevant processes like sickness reporting and sick pay, and be prepared take appropriate action where necessary
  • Businesses should consider shift working or staggering shifts to operate whilst minimising contact and working at a safe distance

More detailed guidance has also been released for specific sectors, such as construction, factories and those who work in other people’s homes. 

How to carry out a risk assessment

The process of carrying out a risk assessment in your workplace can be broken down into a series of steps:

  1. Identifying the hazards, by identifying what could harm employees when doing their job.
  2. Identifying who might be harmed and how and highlighting the employees most at risk.
  3. Assessing the risks and acting by deciding how likely it is that harm will occur and proposing changes to prevent it so far as reasonably practicable.
  4. Making a record of your findings. If you employ five or more staff, it’s a legal requirement to have this in writing.

To successfully complete these steps when carrying out a risk assessment, you should:

  • Walk around your premises if possible, noting what may cause a risk.
  • Check that hazards don’t pose a risk to particular employees. For example, a pregnant or disabled employee may need additional assessment.
  • Talk to your employees to hear their concerns and opinions about health and safety.
  • Make sure you have an accident book to check what previous work-related injuries and incidents there have been.

Different types of company hazards

Whilst there will be a large focus on ensuring safety in relation to the potential spread of coronavirus, you should also be aware of other hazards that could affect your business, from electrical machinery to manual handling, as you shift your working practices.

Some examples of key hazards include:

  • Electrical or mechanical equipment
  • Falling objects
  • Fire
  • Hazardous substances
  • Manual handling
  • Slips and trips

Hazards like these can differ from company to company. Your business may pose more hazards than others, or may be affected by several hazards all at once. Risk assessments need to be specific to each company.

Identifying who might be at risk

In addition to spotting 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.

You’ll need to think about particular hazards in your business and the steps you should take to control, reduce, or prevent them so far as possible, depending on your company.

Review your risk assessments

Reviewing your risk assessment regularly to make sure it’s still fit for purpose is important, especially when making changes to how you work or purchasing new equipment.

Carrying out the right risk assessment for your company is crucial in making sure you have checked and considered everything you should that’s specific to your business. This helps ensure the day-to-day health and safety of your employees and anyone involved in your business, which is important as we slowly transition back to business.

Our FSB Legal Hub offers a wealth of expert guidance and resources, including a downloadable risk assessment framework to support your business during coronavirus. FSB members can access legal documents and factsheets covering health and safety, employment, finance and insurance, as well as a dedicated 24/7 legal advice line. You can also download our COVID-19 Health and safety checklist to help you identify the areas you need to cover.