What is risk assessment?
A risk assessment is an important step in protecting our staff, our customers and our business, as well as complying with the law. It helps us focus on the risks that really matter in our workplace – the ones with the potential to cause real harm. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks, for example ensuring spillages are cleaned up promptly so people do not slip, or cupboard drawers are kept closed to ensure people do not trip or hurt themselves on them. For most, this means simple, cheap and effective measures to ensure our most valuable asset – our workforce – is protected- and our customers and our business come to no harm.
The law does not expect you or this company to eliminate all risk, but we are required to protect people as far as ‘reasonably practicable’.
A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. Workers and others have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures.
Accidents and ill health can ruin lives and affect our business too if output is lost, machinery is damaged, reputation harmed, insurance costs increase or you and the management have to go to court. You are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace so that you put in place a plan to control the risks – please note the deliberate use of the word ‘you’. Health & Safety law is criminal law and not civil law. The penalties for failures to work safely and minimise risk to others are unlimited fines and/or imprisonment. This company and you personally can be held accountable for failures to act safely and assess risks before acting.
How do I carry out a risk assessment?
A risk assessment should involve the identification of significant hazards present in any working environment or arising out of commercial activities and work activities.
It should evaluate the extent of the risks involved, taking into account existing precautions and their effectiveness.
A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm (this can include articles, substances, plant or machines, methods of work, the working environment and other aspects of work organisation);
A risk is the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realised. The extent of the risk will depend on:
• the likelihood of that harm occurring;
• the potential severity of that harm, i.e. of any resultant injury or adverse health effect; and
• the population which might be affected by the hazard, i.e. the number of people who might be exposed.
Common Hazards in the Workplace
Different working environments can pose different hazards but some of the most common ones include a trailing cable, worn carpet, exposed wiring, i.e. things that can be easily spotted. It can be something more general like poor lighting or something specific to our business such as hazardous substances we might use. Other hazards are not so identifiable but must be dealt with just the same, e.g. a slippery surface.
We should try and compartmentalise each hazard and put each one into groups which will enable us to identify most hazards that are prevalent in the workplace. They should be grouped by workplace hazards – such as a workshop’s layout, activity hazards – such as using a machine in your workshop and environmental hazards – such as the dust and fumes that are given off when using certain items of machinery.
Five steps to risk assessment
Step 1 – Look for the hazards
If you are doing the assessment yourself, walk around your workplace either at UKV or at the customer’s premises and look afresh at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Ignore the trivial and concentrate on significant hazards which could result in serious harm or affect several people. Ask customer’s employees or your colleagues what they think. They may have noticed things which are not immediately obvious to you. Manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets can also help you spot hazards and put risks in their true perspective. So can accident reports and for managers, ill-health records of their staff.
Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed, and how
Do not forget:
• young workers, trainees, new and expectant mothers, etc who may be at particular risk.
• cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, etc who may not be in the workplace all the time.
• members of the public, or people you share your workplace with, if there is a chance they could be hurt by your activities.
Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or more should be done.
Consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not you need to do more to reduce the risk.
• can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
• if not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely? In controlling risks apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:
1. try a less risky option
2. prevent access to the hazard (e.g. by guarding)
3. organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard
4. issue or wear personal protective equipment
5. provide welfare facilities (e.g. washing facilities for removal of contamination and first aid) or take advantage of them
Step 4 – Record your findings
If we had fewer than five employees we would not need to write anything down, though it is useful to keep a written record of what we have done. But as we employ five or more people we must record the significant findings of our assessments in the workplace. This means writing down the significant hazards and conclusions. We must also tell our employees and colleagues about our findings and ensure that lessons are learned.
Risk assessments must be suitable and sufficient. We need to be able to show that:
• a proper check was made
• we asked who might be affected
• we dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved
• the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low.
• Keep the written record for future reference or use.
Step 5 – Review our assessment and revise it if necessary
Sooner or later we will bring in new machines, substances and procedures which could lead to new hazards. If there is any significant change, we must add to the assessment to take account of the new hazard. We will not amend our assessment for every trivial change, or still more, for each new job, but if a new job introduces significant new hazards of its own, we will want to consider them in their own right and do whatever we need to keep the risks down. In any case, it is good practice to review our assessment from time to time to make sure that the precautions are still working effectively.
Taking Steps to Control the Risks
Ideally, we should be looking to eliminate all risks we have discovered whilst carrying out the assessment. This might include replacing old cabling, substituting hazardous substances for less harmful ones, instigating pollution controls, changing lighting and the layout of the workplace, displaying signs and generally ensuring that we do and how we do it is not harmful to ourselves or others. However, it is understandable that not all risks can be completely eradicated. The law states, however, that you and this company should have taken all reasonable measures to eliminate or reduce the risks.
The above are just some of the practical steps you might wish to consider although there are many more. Apart from practical action, you may also want to think about changing behaviour and work practices, improving communication in the workplace to encourage more discussion between you and other members of staff and managers about potential risks. Help us to develop better training procedures and perhaps thereby minimise harm in our workplace whether that be in UKV premises or those of our customers.
Martin Button – Managing Director