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A simple guide to risk assessments

Don’t over complicate it! How to do your risk assessment in five easy stages

In many organisations, the risks are well known, easy to identify and the necessary control measures may already be in place. You probably already know whether, for example, you have employees who move heavy loads and so could harm their backs, or where people are most likely to slip or trip. If you work in a larger organisation, you could ask a health and safety adviser to help you with your risk assessment. In all cases, you should make sure that you involve your staff or their representatives in the risk assessment process. They will have useful information about how the work is done that will make your risk assessment more thorough and effective. But remember as the responsible person you are responsible for seeing that the assessment is carried out properly.

First area for the risk assessment is to work out who could & how people could be harmed. When you work in a place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards. Walk around the workplace and look at what could be expected to be a risk. Feel free to ask your employees or their representatives for their opinion. Manufacturer’s instructions or data sheets are useful in specifying which chemicals and equipment has been used and the sheets spell out the hazards. Your accident and ill-health records are a good source of information.

The second area is to decide who might be harmed and how during your risk assessment. For each hazard you need to be clear about who might be harmed; it will help you identify the best way of managing the risk. This simply means identifying groups of people (eg ‘people working in the storeroom’ or ‘passers-by’). In each case, the risk assessment should identify how they might be harmed, i.e. what type of injury or ill health might occur.

Thirdly, during the risk assessment evaluate the risks and decide on precautions. Having spotted the hazards, you then have to decide what to do about them. The law requires you to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. For instance, placing a mirror on a dangerous blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution. Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen. This is where your risk assessment can help identify these areas.

Fourthly, record your findings and make sure you implement them. Writing down the results of your risk assessment and  sharing them with your staff, encourages you to do this. Health and safety inspectors acknowledge the efforts of businesses that are clearly trying to make improvements. Making a plan of action based on your risk assessment will help you to deal with the most important things first.

Finally, review and update. Workplaces very rarely stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense therefore, to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis by completing a new risk assessment. Once completed, are there improvements you still need to make? Ask your workers to see if they have spotted a problem? Make sure you learn from accidents or near misses? And of course, make sure your risk assessment stays up to date. Review the document with your team annually, after workplace changes or after an incident.

If you follow these five easy steps then you will prevent workplace accidents, unwanted claims, enforcement notices, prohibition & improvement notices.

[Article reproduced by kind permission from Sphere Risk Health and Safety Management Ltd, our partners in Health and Safety]

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