Risk assessment is 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.

A risk assessment is a vital element for health and safety management and its main objective is to determine the measures required to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act and associated regulations by reducing the level of incidents/accidents.

To do a risk assessment, you need to understand what, in your business, might cause harm to people and decide whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm. Once you have decided that, you need to identify and prioritise putting in place, appropriate and sensible control measures.

How to do a risk assessment

  1. Identifying what can harm people in your workplace: This is another way of saying, “Identify the hazards”. In order to identify hazards, you need to understand the difference between a ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’. A hazard is ‘something with the potential to cause harm’ and risk is ‘the likelihood of that potential harm being realised’. Hazards can be identified by using a number of different techniques such as walking around the workplace or asking your employees.

These are the possible area to check:

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  • Physical: e.g. lifting, awkward postures, slips, and trips, noise, dust, machinery, computer equipment, etc.
  • Mental: e.g. excess workload, long hours, working with high-need clients, bullying, etc. These are also called ‘psychosocial’ hazards, affecting mental health and occurring within working relationships.
  • Chemical: e.g. asbestos, cleaning fluids, aerosols, etc.
  • Biological: including tuberculosis, hepatitis and other infectious diseases faced by healthcare workers, home care staff and other healthcare professionals.

2. Identifying who might be harmed and how: Once you have identified a number of hazards you need to understand who might be harmed and how, such as ‘people working in the warehouse’, or members of the public.

Review work routines in all the different locations and situations where the staff is employed. For example:

  • Home care supervisors must take due account of their client’s personal safety in the home, and ensure safe working and lifting arrangements for their own home care staff.
  • In a supermarket, hazards are found in the repetitive tasks at the checkout, in lifting loads, and it slips and trips from spillages and obstacles in the shop and storerooms. Staff faces the risk of violence from customers and intruders, especially in the evenings.
  • In call centers, workstation equipment (i.e. desk, screen, keyboard, and chair) must be adjusted to suit each employee.

3. Evaluating the risks and deciding on the appropriate controls: This involves taking into account the controls you already have in place. After ‘identifying the hazards’ and ‘deciding who might be harmed and how’ you are then required to protect the people from harm. The hazards can either be removed completely or the risks controlled so that the injury is unlikely.

4. Recording your risk assessment: Your findings should be written down, it’s a legal requirement where there are 5 or more employees; and by recording the findings it shows that you have identified the hazards, decided who could be harmed and how, and also shows how you plan to eliminate the risks and hazards.

This record provides proof that the assessment was carried out, and is used as the basis for a later review of working practices. The risk assessment is a working document. You should be able to read it. It should not be locked away in a cupboard.

5. Reviewing and updating your assessment: You should never forget that few workplaces stay the same and as a result, this risk assessment should be reviewed and updated when required.

A risk assessment must be kept under review in order to:

  • ensure that agreed safe working practices continue to be applied (e.g. that management’s safety instructions are respected by supervisors and line managers); and
  • take account of any new working practices, new machinery or more demanding work targets.

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