Risk assessment

The UK’s Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) introduced the need for employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of health and safety risks to employees and other persons affected by work activities. The main reason for conducting risk assessments is to ensure that we have adequately considered the things that can go wrong in the workplace and their likely effects. By so doing we can implement measures that will either reduce the likelihood of such events occurring, or, if the worst should happen, limit the severity of injuries that occur.

Adequate risk assessments are therefore fundamental to ensuring the effective management of health and safety risks at work. They should take into account:

• people;
• premises;
• plant; and
• procedures.

Since risk assessments are an absolute requirement under health and safety legislation, failure to conduct them is an offence that can be easily prosecuted. Such a failure often comes to light as a result of inspections or investigations by the relevant Enforcement Authorities.

The HSE suggests that risk assessments should follow five simple steps, notably:

• Step 1: Identify the hazards.
• Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how
• Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
• Step 4: Record your findings and implement them.
• Step 5: Review your assessment and update if necessary.

The best way to avoid risks is to remove the hazard completely. After that, a hierarchy of risk controls should be applied in order to arrive at the most reasonably practicable measure. MHSWR suggests the following:

• Avoid the risk completely – change the design or the process.
• Substitute – use less hazardous materials, e.g. different chemicals.
• Minimise – limit exposure to individuals, perhaps by job rotation.
• General control measures – guarding, barriers or warning systems.
• PPE – the last resort because it protects only the individual.