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5 Steps to Mastering the Risk Assessment

28 July 2015

A crucial part of managing safety in the workplace is to protect employees from risks. To do this, you need to think about what has the potential to cause harm, and decide if you are taking appropriate steps to avoid this harm from happening.

This is called a risk assessment, and as an employer you are required by law to carry this out. If you have less than 5 employees then you do not need to physically write out a risk assessment, but you still need to assess the risks.

You must have a competent person to carry out the risk assessment. If nobody in your company has been trained, then The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) offer one day courses across the UK. Alternatively, you can ask a third-party company to come to your premises to carry out the assessment, which is a service offered by QSC.

Although there are no set rules on how you should carry out your risk assessment, it is commonly agreed that the 5 key steps to carrying out a successful Risk Assessment are:

1.    Identify the hazards in your workplace

There is a difference between hazards and risks which you must understand in order to carry out a risk assessment. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm, and the risk is the likelihood of that potential harm being realised.

A good starting point is to walk around the workplace trying to spot potential hazards - keep an eye on the activities, processes or substances being used and decide if any of these have the potential to injure / harm your employees.

The manufacturer's instructions on equipment / substances can give good guidance in explaining the hazards and putting them into their true perspective. You could also check back on previous accidents / ill-health records for ideas on hazards which could cause harm again in the future.

2.    Decide who has the potential to be harmed, and how this harm may happen

Once you have identified the hazards in your workplace, you then need to be clear about who may be harmed in each individual hazard. You do not have to do this as a list of named employees, but you should do it as groups (e.g. the warehouse staff or visitors)

You should remember to take into account the people who will not always be in the workplace, such as site visitors, maintenance workers, or contractors. If members of the public could be harmed by your work activities then you should ensure that this is covered in your risk assessment too.

A good tip is to get your workers to check your plan and see if you have missed out anyone who could potentially be harmed.

3.    Evaluate the risks and decide how you will control them

The next step is to analyse how likely it is that harm will occur (the level of risk), and also decide what actions you are going to take against this.

The HSE advises that you should do everything that is 'reasonably practicable' to protect people from harm, meaning you should balance the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in real terms of money, time or trouble. You do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

Your risk assessment only needs to include what you can be reasonably expected to know - you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

4.    Record your findings and implement them

Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls.

If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down. But it is useful to do this so you can review it at a later date, for example if something changes. If you have five or more employees you are required by law to write it down.

Any paperwork you produce should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.

5.    Continually review your assessment and update where necessary

Workplaces are constantly changing, and your risk assessment needs to accommodate this. At some point there will more than likely be new equipment, procedures and substances being used, so it's important to keep the risk assessment up to date.

If you need any support with your risk assessments, or would like to check if yours is filled out to the correct standard, please call the QSC team on 01332 294800.

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