How to carry out a risk assessment in the workplace

The last situation most small and medium-sized firms want to face is harm to their workforce which is why risk assessment forms are so important as they help you identify hazards, not to mention bringing you into compliance with the law. 

Firstly, it is worth clarifying exactly what is meant by hazard and risk, despite it appearing obvious. A hazard is any thing that poses harm to employees, for instance, a slippery floor or faulty microwave. A risk is the level of danger posed by the hazard, and relates to the potential severity of harm caused to the worker.

The completion of risk assessment forms is mandatory for firms that employee a minimum of five people, and it will ensure that you are complying with government guidelines on health and safety in the workplace.

Although the law recognises that it is not possible for firms to eradicate all work environment risks, it expects employers to take necessary steps to reduce the hazards that threaten employees’ health and safety.

By law, employers are expected to combat workplace risks where it is “reasonably practicable” and there are a number of simple steps you can take to ensure compliance.

Of course you need to know exactly what is involved in identifying risk, and this is simply recognising a hazard, such as sharp edges, and doing your best to weaken the effects of the risk.

Some ways of identifying risk include simply walking around the workplace to see where there are potential harms, as well as asking employees where they think hazards lie.

For instance, a loose electrical cable could pose a fire hazard, which is particularly dangerous for workers, and as such, an electrician or relevant professional should be called in to rectify the problem.

It is worth noting that it is possible to overcomplicate the process of risk assessment, so try to strike a suitable balance that will ensure that you do not obsess over every fine detail, but in which your employees are as safe as possible.

Once you have identified a hazard, it is necessary to consider who is at risk of harm. For example, where heavy lifting is required as part of an employee’s role, you might say that shelf stackers are at risk. The risk assessment does not require you to name individuals, but to identify a particular group that faces potential harm. 

Once you know where the risk is and who it poses a threat to, it is then necessary to decide what to do about the problem. Consider whether or not the risk can be permanently removed, or simply controlled, while also taking into account whether you already have taken precautionary steps in relation to the hazard.

It might involve switching products to reduce risks, or it could involve providing protective clothing to employees. However, steps should be taken to avoid potential harm to workers.

The next step is to record your findings, as well as detailing the steps you took to counteract the risk. If you have fewer than five employees, you do not need to write down the procedures but it is a good idea to share the risk assessment with staff.

When writing down the risks, again it is best to keep it simple by sticking to short phrases that sum up the situation, such as “being burnt by dripping hot water”.

Remember that a risk assessment needs to clearly outline every step you took to identify and counteract the problem so be sure to include each action in a chronological order, such as saying what the risk was, who it affected and how you dealt with it.

Finally, remember to review and update your risk assessment on a regular basis as not only will this ensure that your employees’ health and safety is protected, but it will keep you in compliance with the law.

For more information or to download a risk assessment template, see Lawpack’s Risk Assessment eKitADNFCR-1645-ID-801257888-ADNFCR

Published on: January 6, 2012

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