Risk assessments

As well as being a legal requirement, risk assessments are vital in protecting workers and visitors to businesses. They help employers focus on risks with the potential to cause harm in the workplace. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks: clearing up spills to prevent slipping or removing trip hazards, for instance.

The law only requires employers to protect employees as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’, but it does require assessment of risks in the workplace to enable plans to be put in place to control those risks. So a risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause harm to people, so employers can decide whether there are sufficient precautions to prevent that harm in place or if more precautions need to be taken.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends following a five-stage plan in assessing risk:

1  identify hazards

2  decide who might be harmed and how

3  evaluate risks and decide on precautions

4  record your findings and implement them

5  review assessments and update if necessary.

Hierarchy of actions to prevent risks

1  avoid the risk, if possible, by eliminating it, by avoiding the task completely, by doing it safely, or using safer materials

2  evaluate risks that cannot be avoided (see risk assessment process)

3  combat risks at source – solve the problem rather than putting up a warning sign

4  try to fit the task to the person, not the person to the task, avoid boring tasks, let the people not the process set the pace

5  use technology and innovation to improve safety

6  create a coherent policy, addressing the most serious risks first

7  protect the whole workforce not individuals

8  ensure everyone understands what they must do to stay safe.