Managing risk is about anticipating problems before they arise, minimising the effects of any that can’t be avoided, and plugging holes after an event to prevent a recurrence. All eminently sensible, so why do so many employers find health and safety risk assessments daunting?
The law (Management of health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) requires a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of the risks to health and safety arising out of work activities. Where there are five or more employees the significant findings should be recorded, and any group of employees identified as being especially at risk e.g. young persons.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment considers the likelihood of harm arising from an activity, taking into account precautions already in place, and the likely severity of harm if it does arise. This helps you to select appropriate control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm.
Control measures are simply steps taken to make things safer for the different groups of people who might be affected. The aim is to find the most efficient and safe way of working and to communicate this to all those who may be affected. You need to identify the hazards before you can evaluate the risks before you can control them.
A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm to people, property or the environment. Examples are electricity, a wet floor, substances, or work at height.
Risk is a combination of the likelihood of a hazardous event occurring e.g. slipping on a wet floor, and the most likely severity of harm in the circumstances.
Hierarchy of Controls
The regulations require you to apply a hierarchy of measures starting with the most effective before considering a lesser control, always starting with the possibility of eliminating the hazard.
Eliminate a hazard. This allows you to focus on activities that are unavoidable.
Evaluate risks that cannot be avoided.
Address risks at source - avoid spillages rather than display ‘wet floor’ signs.
Adapt work to the individual to reduce and alleviate any ill-health effects.
Adapt to technical progress and improved work methods.
Replace dangerous with non-dangerous or the less dangerous.
Develop a prevention policy to influence all aspects of the work environment.
Give priority to measures that protect collectively – personal protective equipment (PPE) leaves others not using it exposed to the risk.
Give appropriate instructions to employees on how to work safely.
Monitor and review measures you put in place to make sure they are effective and change them if not.
If there is a near miss or accident this suggests the control measures are lacking and the risk assessment should be reviewed. If a significant change is made to the work or location, review the risk assessment and add any new hazards that have been introduced. Always remember that the aim of a risk assessment is to communicate the safe way of working to the end user.
Whilst the risk assessments are best carried out by those doing the work and those in charge, the Alcumus PSM Health and Safety Consultants can assist with interviews and job safety analysis or facilitate a risk evaluation workshop.
To find out how we can help you contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises. Find out more about our services.
Written by Alexis Barrett, Senior Health & Safety Consultant