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What is a risk assessment

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6 min read

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a method of identifying the hazards that are most likely to cause harm in the workplace, and implementing controls to eliminate or reduce the risk or likelihood of harm.

Here we take an in-depth look at some of the different types of risk assessments, why they are important, and the steps you need to take to conduct your own.

Written by Helen Down, StaySafe

What is a risk assessment?

The purpose of risk assessments is to eliminate risk or harm. If elimination is not possible, risk assessments help businesses to implement controls to reduce the risk. Risk assessments are an important safety measure and should only be carried out by competent persons.

As part of the risk assessment process you should consider any hazards related to the work being carried out, the people they come into contact with and the environments they work and travel in.

When conducting a risk assessment and deciding on any resulting actions, there is a hierarchy of controls to be considered. Where possible, eliminating or substituting a hazard should be done first, before implementing any new procedures or issuing safety equipment.

When were risk assessments first used?

Risk assessments have been a legal requirement for many years. The concept of risk assessments was first introduced within the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, becoming a legal requirement in 1992 as part of the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations.

The current regulations that cover risk assessments in the UK are The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require that “employers carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training”.

In addition, there are also other regulations that require risk assessments to be conducted, for example COSHH, PPE and Manual Handling regulations. It is important to ensure that you carry out the all the necessary types of risk assessment for your business and seek professional advice if needed to ensure you are fully compliant.

Aims of risk assessments

Employers use risk assessments to identify and eliminate risk. If elimination isn’t possible, risk assessments allow businesses to identify suitable controls to reduce the risk of harm.

Under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, every employer must assess the health and safety risks their employees are exposed to at work. They must also consider any risks to the health and safety of others that could arise from their business conduct – for example harm to the general public.  The regulations also apply to anyone who may be affected by the employer’s undertakings, for example contractors, other workers and members of the public. Steps must then be taken to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that exposure to any risk is reduced to an acceptable level.

5 steps to risk assessment

So how do you conduct a risk assessment?

The HSE provides a 5-step risk assessment guide to help businesses understand what is required as part of a risk assessment.

The 5 steps of conducting a risk assessment are:

1. Identify the hazards

The first step is to identify the risks and hazards present in your organisation. 

You help you identify potential hazards in your organisation you should look at:

  • how people work and how plant and equipment are used
  • what chemicals and substances are used
  • what safe or unsafe work practices exist
  • the general state of your premises
2. Assess the risks 

Next you must consider how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be. This is assessing the level of risk. 

This process will help you to identify the best controls to put in place to minimise risk. You do not need to list everyone individually, but rather identify people collectively by job role or site. 

As well as your employees, the business also holds a legal responsibility to protect the well-being of anyone who may be affected by your work activities. This includes members of the public and other workers operating nearby. For example, if an employee is working at height and drops an object, could someone be injured below?

Risk assessments for lone workers 

Employees who work alone can be at increased risk of harm as there is no one with them to raise the alarm in an emergency, or to point out potential hazards. 

Lone workers should be considered separately within your risk assessments to ensure that you have considered the specific risks that they face. 

Risks faced by lone workers include:

  • Not being able to signal for help in an emergency
  • Not being located quickly in an emergency 
  • Not being found if they are unconscious, for example after a fall
  • Not being located if they haven’t checked in when expected 

What is a lone worker? Our blog will help you identify the lone workers in your organisation

There are also other considerations for employers when it comes to managing the risks faced by lone workers. For example, working alone at night can be particularly dangerous. Lone working can also have an impact on employees mental health.

3. Control the risks

Once the hazards and those at risk have been identified, you then need to decide how you will control the risks. Businesses are not expected to eliminate all risks but must do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm.

Once you have decided whether you are going to take action, ask yourself whether the hazard can be eliminated entirely or whether you can control the risk so that harm is unlikely.

Some practical steps you could take include removing hazards, changing your ways of working or supplying protective equipment. 

If your risk assessment has identified a number of hazards, place them in order of importance and address the most serious risks first. For risks likely to cause accidents or ill health, you should establish whether short-term controls need to be put in place immediately while you take steps to control the risk long term.

Remember, the greater the risk the more robust and reliable the control measures will need to be.

4. Record your findings

If you have more than 5 employees, you are required by law to record your significant findings, including the hazards identified, how your workers might be harmed and what you have put in place to control the risk.

Your records should be simple, easy to understand and focus on the control systems you have put in place. Keeping a record will allow you to review past risk assessments and provides you with evidence should an accident or incident occur.

Your written risk assessment should show that:

  • A thorough check was carried out
  • You considered who might be affected by the hazards
  • You took all reasonable steps to control the hazards
  • The remaining risk is low
  • You involved your employees or health and safety representatives in the process
5. Review your controls

Workplaces are constantly changing, and new hazards are likely to arise as you expand, hire new employees, or implement new equipment and ways of working. You may also find that the procedures you have put in place haven’t been effective, and more still needs to be done to control risk.

Therefore, it is important to regularly review the risk assessments and safety procedures you have in place.

As part of your risk assessment review, you should consider;

  • Whether there have been any significant changes in the workplace
  • Whether your policies and procedures have been effective
  • Whether your workers have identified any other issues
  • Whether any accidents or incidents have occurred
  • If you identify any issues, it is important to follow steps 1-4 again and keep your risk assessment up to date.

Types of risk assessment

Risk assessments must be specific to your organisation. The HSE warns that a ‘copy and paste’ would not satisfy the law, nor would it provide adequate protection for your employees. 

Your risk assessments should take into account your unique business operations and employees’ needs. You should undertake as many risk assessments as required to ensure that all job roles and workplaces have been covered. You must also consider any risks your business operations pose to others outside of your organisation, for example, members of the public. 

Some common types of risk assessments include:

Lone worker risk assessments

Lone worker risk assessments should take into consideration the specific risks that can arise from working without supervision. These risks can include violence in the workplace, stress, medical suitability to work alone and the workplace itself, for example if it is isolated. 

Measures must then be taken to train, supervise and monitor your lone workers. You must also keep in touch with them and respond to any incidents. 

Risk mitigation measures could include:

  • Supervisory visits
  • knowing the location of your lone workers, including pre-agreed intervals of regular contact
  • other devices for raising the alarm, such as lone worker apps
  • a reliable system to ensure a lone worker has returned safely when expected

Dynamic risk assessments

Dynamic risk assessment is the practice of mentally observing, assessing and analysing an environment while at work, to identify and remove risk. The process allows individuals to identify a hazard on the spot and make quick decisions in regard to their own safety before an incident occurs, for example removing a hazard, or leaving an unsafe situation. 

Dynamic risk assessments do not replace the risk assessments carried out by the business; rather they complement them. Teaching your staff to conduct dynamic risk assessments ensures they have the skills and knowledge they need to assess risk for themselves, as well as adhere to official guidance from their employer.

More information on dynamic risk assessments, including where to get more information about dynamic risk assessment training, is included in this blog post.

COSHH risk assessment

A Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) risk assessment concentrates on hazardous substances that might be found in your workplace. It is a legal requirement to carry out a COSHH risk assessment, whether you create the substances, or use them as part of your operations. 

Health hazards are not limited to substances labelled as ‘hazardous’. Some harmful substances can be produced by the processes you use, for example dust created from sanding.

Hazardous substances found in the workplace can include:

  • Disinfectants
  • Acids
  • Glues
  • Heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Petroleum
  • Paint

Most hazardous substances are controlled under COSHH, however lead and asbestos are covered by separate regulations; the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.

Fire risk assessments

All businesses can be at risk from fire. 

The Fire Safety Order requires that employers must;

  • Carry out a fire risk assessment 
  • Inform staff about the risks identified
  • Implement appropriate fire safety measures
  • Undertake emergency planning 
  • Provide staff with fire safety information and training 

You are legally required to keep a written record of your fire risk assessment if your business has 5 or more people. 

As part of your fire risk assessment, you will need to consider:

  • Emergency exit routes
  • Fire alarms
  • Evacuation plans
  • The needs of any vulnerable staff members, for example, elderly, children or those with disabilities
  • Firefighting equipment
  • Fire safety training 

The UK Government website provides a comprehensive guide to fire safety in the workplace, including sector-specific guides.

Risk assessment template

StaySafe are experts in lone worker safety. To help you get started with writing your lone working risk assessment, we have created a comprehensive step-by-step guide, including a template document for you to use.

Expert risk assessments

Looking for more information on protecting the lone workers in your organisation?

StaySafe has collated a library of lone worker safety resources that can help you to keep your staff protected. 

Get up to date with the latest lone worker research in the Lone Worker Landscape Report 

Understand what to include in your lone worker policy

Learn more about lone worker safety legislation in the UK 

Gain in-depth information on lone working in our Lone Worker Guide.

Find out more about mitigating the risks faced by lone workers with our lone worker safety solution

StaySafe can reduce the risks faced by your lone workers 

The StaySafe app gives employers visibility of the location and safety status of lone workers in an emergency, and allows employees to check-in safely once they have finished a lone working or travel session. 

Find out more about our lone worker solutions.

Are you protecting your lone workers?

Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about lone working.
From identifying the lone workers in your organisation, to the risks they face in different environments, our lone worker guide will ensure you know how to keep your staff protected and meet your legal duty of care.
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Helen Down

“Helen has worked within the lone worker industry for nearly a decade. During that time she has written extensively about health and safety, risk, legislation, and lone working – including the Lone Worker Landscape Report.

Helen’s background is in marketing for start-ups and SMEs, where she has enjoyed working as part of the leadership team to grow the business. Outside of work, Helen is a mum of two and loves to drink wine in peace.”

Looking for more information on protecting your lone workers?

We have a range of expert resources and topical blogs to help keep your lone working staff safe.

Guide to Lone Working

A comprehensive lone worker guide for employers, managers and the self employed.

Lone Worker Risk Assessment
An extensive guide to risk assessments for employers or managers of lone workers.
Three Questions to Ask When Purchasing a Lone Working Solution
An informative guide outlining everything you need to know when considering purchasing a lone working solution.

Find out more about StaySafe solutions

Lone Worker App

Our intuitive app allows employees to check in safely following a lone working session and raise an alert in an emergency.

Cloud Based Monitoring Hub
Our hub uses GPS to accurately locate your lone workers and provides you with real-time updates on their movements.
Wearable Technology
Pairing the app with V.BTTN is a great solution for anyone working at height, with gloves or machinery, where pushing a button may be a more convenient way of using the StaySafe app.
Satellite Tracking Devices
Our satellite tracking devices are designed for those regularly travelling to remote areas where you can’t even get a mobile signal.
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