Health and Safety Law: How to Carry Out a Risk Assessment for Your Business

One of the largest areas of health and safety law, it's difficult to know where to begin with a risk assessment. Read our guide to the essentials

Health and Safety Law: How to Carry Out a Risk Assessment for Your Business

Carrying out a risk assessment: Step by step

In the vast majority of workplaces, you can carry out the risk assessment yourself, or leave it to your designated health and safety officer. Generally, you should follow the six-step process below when carrying out a risk assessment.

Step 1: Identify the hazards

You need to physically inspect your workplace and monitor the tasks carried out there, asking your staff and any safety representatives whether they are aware of any specific risks. You should also check supplier’s instructions for your equipment to identify risks, as well as identify common hazards and ‘accidents waiting to happen’ including exposed cables and heavy objects.

Step 2: Decide who could be affected

It’s not just your employees – you are liable for the health and safety of anyone who could be affected by your premises and business activity. Visitors, new employees and contractors may be at particular risk, as they may not be aware of your safety procedures. You should also take into account the needs of particularly vulnerable people, such as pregnant women and disabled people.

Step 3: Consider how likely an accident is, and how effective your current precautions are

Remember some industries, such as construction, are governed by specific legal requirements. If you allow any risk to remain, consider how likely it is that an accident could occur, how many people it could hurt, and how badly.

Step 4: Develop a plan to eliminate or minimise the risk of accident

Sometimes a certain level of risk is unavoidable, but you can normally reduce this to an acceptable level by taking simple steps such as requiring employees to wear protective equipment or putting up warning signs near particular hazards.

Step 5: Record the results of your risk assessment, and any corrective action you took

This process can be helpful if you are facing a claim, or need to review your procedures at a later date.

Step 6: Review your risk assessment periodically

This is normally an annual process for most businesses.

Long-term health risks in business

When carrying out a risk assessment, you should be aware of not just the immediate danger presented by accidents and injuries, but also long-term risks to the welfare of your staff.

First, you should consider the risks presented by various factors in the working environment that might put your staff under mental or physical stress. In particular, you should look for poor lighting as this can lead to eye strain and headaches and inadequate ventilation as a lack of fresh air can make people tired and more likely to have accidents – in addition to greatly increasing the risk of infectious diseases spreading.

Also watch out for excessively high or low temperatures as this can also increase the risk of illness and harm productivity in the workplace. Finally watch out for excessive noise – this can lead to headaches or even hearing loss and poor air quality (e.g. from paint or ink) which can also present a health hazard.

If your staff work with computers in an office, you might think they are safe from obvious harm, but in fact desk jobs present various long-term health risks you should guard against. You should ensure that PC screens are clear and flicker-free, that desks and chairs are adjusted to safe heights and staff are shown how to do this themselves. Also make sure that your staff can take regular breaks away from their computers and that footrests and other support devices are made available to employees that need them.

In addition, you should ensure that your staff don’t have to move heavy objects on a regular basis without assistance, as this can lead to avoidable injuries and back problems.

Identifying if your existing health and safety precautions are adequate

When you have identified the hazards that exist in your business, the next step is to assess whether the existing precautions you have taken are enough to reduce the risk to an ‘acceptable level’. What constitutes an ‘acceptable level’ of risk depends on various factors, and you should contact your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if you need advice.

Generally, when assessing whether the precautions you have taken are adequate, you should check with your trade association that the measures taken meet industry standards. Also confirm that your procedures reduce the risk ‘as far as reasonably practicable’ – you are allowed to balance cost against risk when deciding this.

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