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How Do I Do a Risk Assessment?

All businesses are required by law to carry out risk assessments in their working environment.  This can seem a bit daunting but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers a great deal of help for small and medium-sized businesses, all available on-line.   If you have fewer than five employees, you are not required to write anything down. But must still undertake regular assessments.  You will find example risk assessments applying to a wide range of businesses at

http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/index.htm.  These you can use as guidelines and see how other businesses have carried out their assessments.

Let’s first look more closely at what constitutes a hazard.  The term hazard covers anything that carries the potential for harm.  This would include chemicals, electricity, working at height, awkwardly placed furniture and unsecured flooring.  This is far from an exclusive list, so look at everything from a Health and Safety point of view.

A risk is best defined as the chance that anybody could be harmed by identified hazards.  You will need to assess the chance of risk, from low to high, as well as how serious the harm might be.

One important thing to keep in mind at all times is that risk assessments should be carried out regularly and particularly if conditions change within the workplace (for example, new equipment, altered premises, etc).

You don’t have to be a Health and Safety specialist to complete effective risk assessments that will help ensure the safety of your employees, customers and visitors.  The simplest thing is to divide the task into five steps.

Step One

  • What are the potential risks in your workplace?  Approach the environment with an open mind and observe and note anything that could harm people.  Think about the potential causes of accidents and illness.  You are looking here for real risks – things that are most likely to happen.  Balance these against any control measures you already have in place.

Step Two

  • Have a good think about who might suffer from potential harm and how this could occur.  This is important because different risks effect people differently.  For example, consider if any staff or customers are disabled, are more prone to slips and trips or if there are children in the environment.

Step Three

  • Once you have evaluated the risks you then need to come up with effective control measures.  Factor in the controls you have in place already and decide if further measures are needed.

Step Four

  • You need to document your risk assessment thoroughly, being sure to include measures that need to be taken to minimise the potential for harm.  Note that if you have fewer than five employees, you are not required to write anything down.

Step Five

  • Once the assessment is undertaken it should be regularly reviewed and updated.
  • Be sure to include the following in your risk assessment:
    • Each identified hazard.  For example, necessary office supplies might be stored out of easy reach of some employees.
    • Who is likely to suffer and how that might happen?  In this instance an employee might pull over a chair to reach the supplies, overbalance and fall off.
    • What controls are already in place?  Perhaps a safety step ladder is available in the store room.
    • Could you do anything more to reduce the chance of risk?  Move items needed on a regular basis to a lower level and make sure the step ladder to readily available.
    • Who is responsible for carrying out the action.
    • When the action should be completed.

As mentioned, the HSE has provided several aids which can be easily found on the internet.  Further, you will find advice on controlling risks in the work environment at http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/controlling-risks.htm.

Regular comprehensive Risk Assessments are a vital tool to ensure the safety of all in the work environment.  But an assessment is not worth anything if it is not acted upon.  Both you and your staff must be diligent in following risk control measures.

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