The purpose of a risk assessment is to systematically identify all of the risks associated with a task, activity or process and put appropriate controls in place to eliminate or reduce the risks associated with that activity.
This entails breaking the activity down into separate components and ascertaining all of the risks associated with each component of the activity. Once the risks are identified you then assess the level of risk, to determine its priority. According to the level of risk and hence the priority, you decide on what controls you can put in place to eliminate or reduce the risk.
Obviously something with a high level of risk is a greater priority and may need to have more complex controls in place. In many circumstances you will find that it is impossible to totally eliminate the risk.
The degree of risk that remains after you have implemented controls is referred to as residual risk. If you find that the residual risks are too high (ie you just can’t put controls in place that reduce the risk), you may have to abandon the activity or think of other controls to put in place to reduce the risk.
Best results will be achieved if the risk assessment is undertaken by more than one person, as this enables different views and perspectives, meaning that you are better able to identify all
of the risks. It also means greater and more varied input on determining controls.
The five steps to Risk Assessment:
Step 1: Identify hazards, i.e. anything that may cause harm.
Employers have a duty to assess the health and safety risks faced by their workers. Your employer must systematically check for possible physical, mental, chemical and biological hazards.
This is one common classification of hazards:
- Physical: e.g. lifting, awkward postures, slips and trips, noise, dust, machinery, computer equipment, etc.
- Mental: e.g. excess workload, long hours, working with high-need clients, bullying, etc. These are also called ‘psychosocial’ hazards, affecting mental health and occurring within working relationships.
- Chemical: e.g. asbestos, cleaning fluids, aerosols, etc.
- Biological: including tuberculosis, hepatitis and other infectious diseases faced by healthcare workers, home care staff and other healthcare professionals.
Identifying who is at risk starts with your organisation’s own full- and part-time employees. Employers must also assess risks faced by agency and contract staff, visitors, clients and other members of the public on their premises.
Employers must review work routines in all the different locations and situations where their staff are employed. For example:
- Home care supervisors must take due account of their client’s personal safety in the home, and ensure safe working and lifting arrangements for their own home care staff.
- In a supermarket, hazards are found in the repetitive tasks at the checkout, in lifting loads, and in slips and trips from spillages and obstacles in the shop and storerooms. Staff face the risk of violence from customers and intruders, especially in the evenings.
- In call centres, workstation equipment (i.e. desk, screen, keyboard and chair) must be adjusted to suit each employee.
Step 3: Assess the risks and take action.
This means employers must consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not your employer should reduce the level of risk. Even after all precautions have been taken, some risk usually remains. Employers must decide for each remaining hazard whether the risk remains high, medium or low.
Step 4: Make a record of the findings.
Employers with five or more staff are required to record in writing the main findings of the risk assessment. This record should include details of any hazards noted in the risk assessment, and action taken to reduce or eliminate risk.
This record provides proof that the assessment was carried out, and is used as the basis for a later review of working practices. The risk assessment is a working document. You should be able to read it. It should not be locked away in a cupboard.
Step 5: Review the risk assessment.
A risk assessment must be kept under review in order to:
- ensure that agreed safe working practices continue to be applied (e.g. that management’s safety instructions are respected by supervisors and line managers); and
- take account of any new working practices, new machinery or more demanding work targets.
Once you have decided on the controls you are going to put in place and the risk assessment is authorised, you have to implement these controls. This may require the addition of further training, procedures, guidelines etc. to facilitate implementation of some controls.
Monitor And review
The next step is the most important step, as there is no use implementing controls if you don’t monitor and review what you have implemented.
This should be a continual process if it is to be effective. The best planned control measures may not be as effective as you thought they would be once put into practice. Or, you may find that by implementing certain controls, creates other hazards. If this is the case you may have to implement further contro