5 Steps to Risk Assessment

Risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation and failure to conduct them is an offence.

Risk assessments are designed to ensure employers have adequately considered the things that can go wrong in the workplace and should take into account:

  • People
  • Premises
  • Plant
  • Procedures

“Risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation (see box opposite) and failure to conduct them is an offence” says Kathryn Gilbertson of Greenwoods Solicitors LLP. “Such a failure often comes to light as a result of inspections or investigations by the relevant Enforcement Authorities. In addition, the competence of those persons conducting risk assessments may be called into question.”

It’s important to understand the difference between risk and a hazard:

  • Risk is the chance, high or low, of somebody being harmed by the hazard, and how serious the harm could be.
  • A hazard is anything that may cause harm, e.g. chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, noise etc.

The HSE suggests that risk assessments should follow five simple steps:

Step 1: Identify the hazards
Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Step 4: Record your findings and implement them
Step 5: Review your assessment and update if necessary

Prevention is the preferable course of action and the MHSWR suggest the following:

  • Avoid the risk completely – change the design or the process
  • Substitute – use less hazardous materials, e.g. different chemicals
  • Minimise – limit exposure to individuals, perhaps by job rotation
  • General control measures – guarding, barriers or warning systems
  • PPE – the last resort because it protects only the individual


Conducting Risk Assessments

When conducting risk assessments, the assessor should take into account the information that is available for the type(s) of risks involved, including:

  • Regulations, e.g. Work at Height Regulations 2005
  • Any associated Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), which provides practical interpretation of the legislation for employers
  • Good practice guidance notes from the HSE, special interest groups and trade associations
  • Company’s own health and safety policy and arrangements document (sometimes more exacting than the law itself)
  • The people doing the job who know how things are actually done, rather than just how they should be done
  • External consultants, e.g. asbestos specialists

Record and Review

Employers with five or more employees have a legal duty to record risk assessments in writing. These should be communicated via memos, training, team briefs etc.

They should then set a date for review to check whether the risk assessment is still adequate, following:

  • Changes in working practices
  • New plant
  • Changes in legislation, and/or
  • As a result of an accident

Finally, it is important to get out into the workplace and ensure that risk control measures are in place and working effectively.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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