Employers are required by law to protect their employees from harm, and under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, general risk assessments must be completed by all employers. Additionally, those with five or more employees must record any significant findings.
A risk assessment is the process of identifying hazards that currently exist or may appear in the workplace. It defines which hazards are likely to cause harm to employees and analyses the measures in place to control the risks.
Here is our step-by-step guide to conducting a thorough risk assessment:
- Identify hazards
The first step to conducting a risk assessment should be identifying the potential hazards in the workplace, including any locations that your employees visit, such as clients’ homes. A good place to start is simply walking around the workplace thinking about things with the potential to cause harm. Observe the activities, processes and equipment used that could inflict injury or impact someone’s health.
To identify less obvious hazards, look over the accident book and any other records that track near misses and incidents of ill health. Also, take non-routine operations such as irregular maintenance work and cleaning into consideration.
- Identify who is at risk
For each hazard, the risk assessment needs to be clear about who might be harmed, thinking not just about employees, but also contractors, visitors and members of the public where applicable.
Particular attention should be paid to groups of workers who might be at increased risk, such as staff with known medical conditions, or inexperienced staff such as new recruits or seasonal workers. Lone workers, identified by the HSE as employees “who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”, also face increased risk as they do not have the benefit of a colleague to spot potential hazards or assist in the event of an incident.
- Assess the risks
Having identified the hazards and the people at risk, the next step is to decide how likely it is that harm will occur and evaluate the control measures currently in place.
If the risk level is medium-high, additional safety precautions to reduce the risk should be implemented.
- Consider if risks can be eliminated
Look at what is currently being done and the risk controls already in place. The first option for reducing risk should always be to try and remove the hazard. If it’s not possible for the hazard to be eliminated, think about how the risks can be controlled so that harm is unlikely. For example, sending two employees to visit the home of an individual who has a history of violence, rather than a lone worker.
- Decide on further measures
Employers are not expected to eliminate all risks but must do everything that is ‘reasonably practical’ to protect people from harm. This involves balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the hazard in terms of money, time or trouble. If further controls are necessary, consider:
- replacing the materials, machinery or process
- providing personal protective equipment (PPE), including dedicated personal safety devices
- running additional and refresher training sessions, this may include training on how to diffuse aggression for employees who work in contact with members of the public
Review risk assessment
As a minimum, risk assessments should be reviewed annually to evaluate the control measures in place and see if they can be improved. In this time, new hazards, such as new machinery, may have been introduced. A review may need to take place sooner in the event of an incident, near miss or a problem spotted by an employee.