It’s important for any business to conduct risk assessments to keep both people and assets protected. But how exactly are they carried out, and what does the law require you to do? In this article, we outline the importance of undertaking risk assessments regularly, the need for suitable documentation and processes, who’s responsible for what, and more.
What is a Risk Assessment?
It is every employer’s duty to conduct risk assessments as per the UK The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This means that employers must assess the risks to the health and safety of themselves, their employees and anyone who may be affected by their actions.
A risk assessment is essentially the process by which one identifies and evaluates potential or future risk, its likelihood of occurrence and impact. Assessments determine the probability of damage or hurt taking place.
Risk assessments are critical to protecting people, assets, and anything that may be affected by a potential hazard. A hazard could be anything from a utility outage (e.g electrical power failure) to a mechanical breakdown or even a supplier failure.
By assessing risks, control measures can then be put in place to avoid harm.
Why Are Risk Assessments so Important?
The HSE’s Health and Safety at Work report for 2020 demonstrates that businesses continue to face huge costs resulting from work-related illnesses and injuries. In other words, it indicates that health and safety negligence creates significant expenses of both time and resources.
For instance – there were 1.6 million work-related ill health cases (new or long-standing) in 2019/20. £16.2 million – that was the annual cost of work-related injury and new cases of ill health in 2018/19, excluding long-latency illness such as cancer.
Conducting assessments is a step in the right direction to avoiding such issues, and protecting people, products and your business from harm. When it comes to health and safety, negligence far outweighs the cost of compliance.
To put it succinctly, risk assessments are critical because they:
- Allow you to identify potential hazards
- Help protect employees and customers
- Help protect business assets
- Allow you to put precautionary measures in place
- Help ensure compliance with the law
- Help prevent fines and other work-related costs
- Allow you to evaluate effectiveness of existing control measures
Who Should Carry Out a Risk Assessment?
Now that we’ve covered why risk assessments are important – let’s discuss who should carry them out, when they should take place, and different types of assessments.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations dictates that employers must appoint one or more competent person(s), i.e. someone with relevant knowledge and experience, to assist in health and safety management and carry out risk assessments.
Employers may therefore delegate the task of carrying out risk assessments to a competent person, but ultimately it is their responsibility to make sure that appropriate assessments are completed.
When Should Assessments be Undertaken?
As previously mentioned, you are legally required to carry out risk assessments as an employer. A rule of thumb is that you should undertake them at least once a year to ensure they remain up to date and relevant. Tip: Make sure to add them to your work calendar so you don’t forget.
According to the HSE, you should review what you are doing to control risk regularly and whenever there are significant changes, such as the introduction of new equipment or staff. You should also review your assessment if new hazards are identified and new information becomes available.
How are Risk Assessments Carried Out?
Assessments are carried out by competent individuals. The HSE identifies the 5 steps of risk assessment as:
- Identifying the hazards
- Deciding who might be harmed and how
- Evaluating the risks and deciding on precautionary measures
- Recording findings and implementing them
- Reviewing your assessment and updating it if necessary
Carrying out an assessment involves observation, checking records, consulting with employees, and more.
Is Documentation Needed?
Risk assessments are key to ensuring the health and safety of everyone in your business.
Businesses that employ five or more people must document their risk assessments. This doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of paperwork.
A risk assessment template can help you keep track of who might be harmed and how/what action you need to take to control risks.
Remember that you shouldn’t simply copy a template – assessments should be bespoke to your business to accurately reflect risk. If you’re unsure where to start, consider enlisting the help of risk assessment consultancy services.
Types of Risk Assessments
There are numerous types of risk assessments – and these should be “proportionate and relevant to the operational activities being undertaken”, according to the British Safety Council.
An example of a common risk assessment is a Display Screen Equipment Risk Assessment. This type of assessment evaluates the risk of using computers, laptops, ipads and other screen devices at work. It involves considerations such as the proximity of the device to the user, the readability of the characters on screen and the brightness of the screen.
COSHH Risk Assessments are another good example. COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. This type of assessment is required from workplaces where hazardous substances are used, stored or manufactured.
Other examples include fire risk assessments and manual handling risk assessments.
Food Risk Assessments
If you’re the owner of a food business, you’ll need to think about the risks associated with preparing, handling or storing food. Food risk assessments allow you to protect stakeholders and your reputation.
It’s vital to identify potential microbiological, physical, chemical and allergenic hazards so that appropriate control measures, monitoring and corrective actions can be established.
Poor food safety and hygiene practices can result in food poisoning outbreaks, customer complaints, brand damage, legal action or even closure of premises in extreme circumstances.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a way of managing the safety and food hygiene practices which helps control major food risks and assures customers that food is safe to eat. Your food safety practices should be based upon the principles of HACCP, according to the Food Standards Agency.
In conclusion, risk assessments are important because they ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of people, and the protection of your business assets and reputation. You are required by law to carry out risk assessments to ensure they remain as up to date and as accurate as possible. Such assessments allow for you to identify and control hazards, minimising injuries, illness, losses and fines.
Managing risks and risk assessment at work, Health and Safety Executive, Accessed July 2021
Risk Assessments: what they are, why they’re important and how to complete them, British Safety Council, Accessed July 2021