If you are a business owner or are a responsible person within an organisation, then this could be one of the most important things you read today! I know what you’re thinking… yeah, yeah, Risk Assessments, I know what they are… but do you really?
Health & Safety can be seen as a bit of a mine field at times, and it can be hard for Business Owners to know what to focus on if they haven’t received any training or have previous experience with Health & Safety. Well in this blog I want to explain to you why, if there was one element that you need to fully understand as a Business Owner then it would be Risk Assessments.
What are Risk Assessments?
We have all heard the term Risk Assessments and on the surface of things have a brief understanding of what they are. The problem is, there is an alarmingly large number of organisations who think that having some documents in a folder somewhere constitutes as having carried out Risk Assessments. Wrong! This is a dangerous place to be, and in the event of an incident and any subsequent investigation by the HSE, it will be deemed that the company is in breach of The Management of Health & Safety at Work (MHSAW) Regulations for failing to identify the risks or not having “suitable and sufficient” Risk Assessments.
So what is a Risk Assessment then? Well firstly a Risk Assessment is a process and not a document. Yes, if you have more than 5 employees you are required to document this process, but it is the process that is the important part. A Risk Assessment is a process that is designed to help you identify hazards that are posed to persons as a result of your business operations, and implement control measures in order to eliminate or minimise the risk of that hazard causing harm.
It’s fine… I’ve got templates
In the section above I used the term “suitable and sufficient” to describe a Risk Assessment. This is what the term that the HSE have used within the legislation. Suitable and sufficient essentially means that the Risk Assessment needs to be specific to the task, equipment, work environment, person etc. In other words, there is no “one size fits all” approach to Risk Assessments that will be deemed suitable and sufficient. So if your Risk Assessment process is to download or pay for Risk Assessments and keep them on a file, then I regret to inform you that these would not be classed as suitable and sufficient. With this said, you would be able to use a template Risk Assessment as guidance to conduct your own Risk Assessment and then update it accordingly to make it suitable and sufficient.
How do I complete a Risk Assessment?
At first conducting a Risk Assessment can seem daunting, but once you know the process it is actually quite straight forward and methodical. Also, bear in mind that nobody knows your business better than you! You know the equipment, you know the processes and materials, you know the premises etc. So once you know the process of a Risk Assessment then you really are the best person to conduct one. So what is the process, the HSE state that there are 5 steps to carrying out a Risk Assessment which I will state below with a brief description.
Step 1 – identify the hazards
Simplified, a hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm. This could be a tangible object such a tool or item of equipment, a knife etc. It could be the environment such as adverse weather, working in a confined space and so on. You may be doing an individual Risk Assessment for an equipment type, or you might be conducting a Risk Assessment on a work area, such as a workshop. In either case it is likely that there will be multiple hazards identified. An example would be:
Item: Bench Grinder
Hazards: wheel burst, entanglement, eye injuries through ejected materials, fire, noise
At this stage of the Risk Assessment you will simply be listing all the potential ways that harm can be caused.
Step 2 – identify who might be harmed
The next step is to identify those to whom the hazards in the list could cause harm. This may seem overly simple but remember that a lot of hazards could affect multiple persons. For example, if a process causes harmful vapours to be emitted into the work environment, then any person in that area is at risk of harm, this will include the direct operator, other employees, contractors, site visitors etc. This is important as knowing who is affected and in what capacity, allows you to implement more efficient and appropriate control measures.
Step 3 – control the risks
It is important at this point to understand that difference between a risk and a hazard as the two frequently get mistaken.
A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm whereas the risk is the likelihood of the hazard causing harm. For example, a sharp knife (the hazard) could cause harm by cutting the skin, however, if the knife is in a protective cover and in a locked drawer, then the risk of that hazard causing harm would be deemed very low.
So, what does this mean for the Risk Assessment process? During this phase you will be looking at the hazard you have identified and evaluating the risk of harm in its current state, and, deciding if you can either eliminate or minimise this risk (these are control measures). Now remember that the best way to control a risk is to eliminate it all together, so if a process is particularly hazardous, can this be changed for a different process, or can you outsource it to another company with more resources available? If this is not practicable, you would then look to minimise the risk to an acceptable level. This means that you weigh the risk of injury against the cost/time/effort of the control measure, and as a business owner make an informed decision on whether or not to apply the control measure. If you do not, this means you will be accepting the residual risk and will have to justify this in the event of an incident.
Control measures come in lots of forms, it could be providing a spray booth for paint spraying operations, provided training and information so that the operator is competent, displaying safety signs and providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I want to add at this point that PPE (although is required) is the last line of defence and not the first! You should always seek to eliminate the hazard or make it safer through engineered controls, training and maintenance etc.
Step 4 – records your findings
If you have more than 5 employees then you are legally required to record this process. There is no specific way to records this, although they generally tend to come in a similar format. A tabular layout is common and is an easier way of recording and interpreting the information. You may wish to record Risk Assessments individually or separately within work areas or departments. The key thing is that the information is written down, along with who conducted the assessment, the date it was created and the date it will be reviewed.
Step 5 – review the controls
Once you have completed your Risk Assessment and implemented the control measures you deemed sufficient, you will then need to monitor and review to ensure that the controls you have implemented are in fact sufficient and are working. If you feel the risk is adequately covered then that is your Risk Assessment complete and you can review again in one year, or upon any significant change. There are a few reasons as to why you need to review you Risk Assessment before a 12 month period which are as follows:
An incident/accident/near miss has been reported
Changes to the workplace, equipment, process or materials used
Risk Assessments are a process and not a tick box document. They must be specific to your business operations in order to be deemed suitable and sufficient. They should be reviewed regularly and records readily available.
In terms of creating and recording your Risk Assessments, Canopy Safety has a great tool which allows you to manage your Risk Assessments all in one place. You can create new ones from scratch or use the template library to get you started. However, if using templates, remember these are to be used as a guide to help you create your own Risk Assessments, they should be reviewed in full, amended and updated to fit your specific workplace practices and associated activities, including Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) related items.
For any assistance with Risk Assessments, or any other Health & Safety matters then get in touch at email@example.com today and one the team will be happy to assist.
Jamie McPhie – Senior Safety Advisor.