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

Identifying accidents waiting to happen

As well as the risks presented by things like machinery and electrical equipment, there may be areas in your place of work that present particular dangers. These might be hard to spot when you’re looking around an office or shop floor you know like the back of your hand – so take a methodical approach to recognising dangers.

Here’s just a few things to consider when doing this. Look for places where people could trip or slip (loose cables, exposed wiring, poor lighting and wet floors could all increase the risk of this) and areas that people could walk into – low ceilings, sharp corners and open drawers could all be potential hazards.

Also check doors and corridors where people might collide – taking into account areas that people might be carrying heavy objects in that obstruct their vision. Finally look for staircases and unguarded drops where people might fall, and places where people might be hurt by falling objects – even papers falling from a high shelf could cause serious damage.

Improving health and safety

There are various steps you can take to actively improve health and safety in your business, once you have identified risks.

If a particular hazard exists in your business, the best option is to simply remove it altogether if you can. For example, if you have uneven flooring or poor lighting, simply replacing them with safer alternatives will nullify the risk entirely.

If you can’t completely remove the risk, you can try and control it with equipment or precautions you put in place. Some ways to do this include having a written procedures for dealing with everyday hazards (such as spillages), putting up barriers or cordons to physically separate staff from hazards, telling staff to take regular breaks to prevent tiredness, developing a written evacuation plan and finally providing personal protective equipment, such as earmuffs and safety goggles, where exposure to a risk is inevitable.

If you have dangerous equipment that you use as part of your day-to-day business activity, it is good practice to reduce risk by minimising exposure to the hazard. Only allow properly trained employees to use equipment that presents a risk – consider implementing a work-permit system to limit access to especially hazardous situations.

More generally, you can lessen the chance of an accident occurring through proper training. It is essential practice to include a health and safety briefing for all new employees, with existing employees given training if they haven’t had it already. Make it clear in the induction that breach of health and safety protocol is a disciplinary offence. Ideally, you should also get new staff to confirm in writing that they have received and understood the briefing.

Going forward, you should implement a regular safety monitoring system in the workplace, which will both ensure that your existing procedures are working and help you to improve upon the measures you take. This should include regular inspection of the workplace, records of all incidents and near misses, and routine maintenance and inspection of equipment.

Risk assessment paperwork

Remember that if you have five or more employees, you need to keep written records of the risk assessment you’ve carried out. The records must show that you made a thorough and comprehensive assessment, using specialist help if needed, and that you have dealt with all the obvious and important hazards. The risk assessment should also include the measures you have put in place to reduce risk to an acceptably low level.

Useful contacts and support

Your local authority’s environmental health department will normally be in charge of enforcing health and safety for most business premises, including offices and shops.

Other specific workplaces such as factories that carry particular dangers are administered by the national Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the UK-wide body responsible for health and safety policy. The HSE Website has guidance on all of the topics covered above, and should be your go-to resource for detailed health and safety information.

For specific industries, your trade association may be able to help you with health and safety matters. The Trade Association Forum website will be able to help you find the industry body that applies to you.

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