The HSE is the UK government body responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety. HSE legislation puts in place health and safety laws UK businesses must follow as well as providing advice and guidance on health and safety issues.
The HSE also carries out research into the effectiveness of health and safety regulations and consults with businesses and their representatives to advise the government and other legislators on health and safety.
Through these regulations, companies are required to assess workplace risks and take preventative action. As a business, to avoid a significant fine or possible prosecution, you should have a robust health and safety management system in place that protects your employees, visitors and the general public. As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. In order to achieve this; you should carry out risk assessments.
What is a risk assessment?
The HSE describes a risk assessment as a “careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm”.
Risk assessments identify potential hazards and their consequences. Companies use these to try to reduce business risks, create disaster recovery plans and also purchase insurance for what they cannot completely control.
Risk assessments are a fundamental requirement for businesses and will protect both workers and the business while complying with the law. If you don’t know, or appreciate where the risks are, you are putting yourself, your employees, your customers and your organisation in danger. Employers must assess all work activities that could be a safety hazard in order to ensure they are doing enough to meet their legal obligations. The aim of a risk assessment is to reduce the risk as far as is “reasonably practicable” and, when able to do so, go further than the legal minimum. ‘Reasonably practicable’ in this instance is a legal term that means employers must balance the cost of steps that they could take to reduce a risk against the degree of risk presented.
Risk assessments should be conducted before employees conduct work on existing, new or unknown activities, using existing or new processes or materials, and which could present a risk of injury or ill-health.
Who to consider when conducting a risk assessment
Risks assessment must consider every individual who might be affected by the activity a business is partaking in. Depending on the organisation, the nature of its work and the sector in which it operates, different individuals will need to be considered when conducting a risk assessment. Those who must always be considered include; employees, contractors, volunteers, visitors and the general public. Some groups are considered more vulnerable, such as the disabled, young people, the elderly and pregnant women. The legislation specifically asks employers to consider the risks posed to these groups and put in place additional controls if they are required.
What does a risk assessment entail?
Employers must look at all work activities that could cause harm in order to decide whether they are doing enough to meet their legal obligations. HSE recommends a five-step approach to risk assessment.
- Look for hazards around the workplace
- Decide who might be harmed and how. Who comes into the workplace? Are they at risk? Do you have any control over them?
- Consider the risks. Are the precautions already taken adequate to deal with the risks?
- Record your findings
- Regularly review the assessment. If any significant changes take place, make sure existing precautions and management arrangements are still adequate to deal with the risks