How to undertake workplace risk assessments

As businesses across the UK are starting to reopen as the Covid-19 lockdown measures begin to ease, business owners are being asked to conduct a workplace risk assessment before resuming operations. Risk assessments are an integral element of managing health and safety for your staff, enabling you to identify potential hazards and compromised safety measures, and implement mitigation to keep staff and customers safe from harm.

The following guidance provides a clear overview of the risk assessment process, to ensure you stay compliant with the current best practice recommendations for identifying, and managing, potential risks in your working environment.

Why risk assess?

All business owners are required by law to conduct risk assessments, even for small organisations with five or fewer employees. The assessment process enables you to identify potential issues which may cause harm to individuals, and ensure that you are taking reasonable action to prevent that harm from taking place. For small organisations (less than five staff), there is no need to take a written record of the process. However, any firm of five or more staff is required to keep an audit trail of the assessment process, to be legally compliant.

How to risk assess

The risk assessment process asks you to consider real risks which could cause harm, in the working environment. The best way to do this is to walk around your workplace, and consider potential hazards such as opportunities for slips or falls, dangers in operating machinery, infection potential, or risks arising from use of chemicals or other substances. Think through the role of your team each day, and the possible scenarios which may occur that could compromise health and safety.

Identifying key hazards

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides helpful guidance on how to consider the hazards which may be present in the work environment, recommending that you:

  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in explaining the hazards and putting them in their true perspective
  • Look back at your accident and ill-health records – these often help to identify the less obvious hazards
  • Take account of non-routine operations (eg maintenance, cleaning operations or changes in production cycles)
  • Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (eg high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances)
  • Visit the HSE website – HSE publishes practical guidance on hazards and how to control them. There are some hazards with a recognised risk of harm, for example working at height, working with chemicals, machinery, and asbestos
  • Depending on the type of work you do, there may be other risks that are relevant to your business. Who might be harmed? Then think how employees (or others who may be present, such as contractors or visitors) might be harmed
  • Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks
  • Think about people who might not be in the workplace all the time, such as visitors, contractors and maintenance workers. Take members of the public into account if they could be harmed by your work activities. If you share a workplace with another business, consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you and your workers.

Evaluating and mitigating the identified risks

Once you have identified potential risks, you can go on to consider the relative likelihood and impact of each. This will support you to prioritise the most probable risks, and put measures in place for each one, to prevent them from happening – or at least do everything possible to avoid them. Balance the likelihood with the measures needed to control each risk, to enable you to weigh up the consequences with the degree of difficulty in mitigating them.

Keep a record of all your assessment activities, to provide a clear log of considerations, mitigation steps you have taken, and your risk analysis process. You can refer back to this when you conduct further assessments, to identify whether new risks have emerged, or existing ones changed.