A Guide to Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments

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1 A Guide to Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Business Information Factsheet BIF289 March 2016 Introduction It is a legal requirement for employers and certain self-employed workers and contractors to carry out health and safety risk assessments. However, only employers with five employees or more are required to write down and keep records of the significant findings of a health and safety risk assessment. Risk assessments are used to identify any factors involved in work activities that could cause harm, and to determine the actions that should be taken to reduce the risk of harm. The aim is not to eliminate all risks, but to reduce them as far as is reasonably practicable. Failure to assess health and safety risks properly can have serious consequences for employers and may result in prosecution. This factsheet outlines the legal responsibilities of employers regarding risk assessments. It explains how to carry out a workplace risk assessment, including how to identify hazards, evaluate risks and take precautionary measures. It also covers requirements for keeping records and reviewing risk assessments on a regular basis. What legislation covers risk assessments? The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (the Act) introduced a number of statutory duties that employers have towards employees and members of the public. Under the Act, employers are required to avoid or reduce risks associated with any work activity conducted in their business 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. However, the Act does not specify the measures they should take to achieve this. See BIF 466, A Guide to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, for more information. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Regulations) introduced specific measures, including the requirement to carry out risk assessments. Under the Regulations, employers, including self-employed people who employ staff, must take responsibility for assessing and managing the potential risks posed by their work activities to employees and other people who come into contact with their business activities. Only employers with five or more employees are required to document and record the significant findings of their health and safety risk assessment. Employees must work safely in accordance with their training and notify their employer of any potential health and safety problems. The Regulations apply to England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, similar provisions are made by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) See BIF 140, A Guide to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, for more information. BIF289 Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Page 1 of 5

2 Under Section 1 of the Deregulation Act 2015, the Government amended section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which imposed a general duty on the self-employed to protect themselves and others from risk to their health and safety. Self-employed people whose work activities pose no potential risk of causing harm to others are now exempt from health and safety law. Self-employed people who carry out a business activity which may pose a risk to the health and safety of other persons, or is of a 'prescribed description' such as agriculture, construction, quarrying, mining, offshore work or high-risk chemical sites, must still protect themselves and others from risk to their health and safety. Who should carry out a risk assessment? Risk assessments must be carried out by a 'competent person', appointed by the employer. This means someone who is adequately trained and knowledgeable and must be able to recognise the risks in work activities and implement measures to manage and control those risks effectively. This could be the business owner themselves or a member of staff or external consultant. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information and interactive tools to help employers understand risk management. Go to for more information. Courses on risk assessment are also available from a variety of training providers - examples include the British Safety Council ( the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA, and St John Ambulance ( How to carry out a risk assessment There are several different ways to carry out risk assessments, but many firms use the five-step process recommended by the HSE. The five steps are: 1. Identify hazards. 2. Identify who might be harmed and how. 3. Evaluate the risks and decide on measures to reduce them. 4. Record the findings and take precautionary action. 5. Review the assessment and update it when necessary. A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm. Typical hazards include: Spillages or objects that could cause people to slip or trip. Working at height. Lifting, pulling or pushing heavy objects. Loud noise. Vibration. Dangerous substances. Asbestos. Electricity. BIF289 Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Page 2 of 5

3 Equipment such as machinery, computers and display screens. The risk is the chance of someone being harmed by an identified hazard. Evaluating the risk generally means considering: The level of risk - is there a high, medium or low chance of the hazard causing harm? How to eliminate or reduce the risk of the hazard causing harm. Measures to eliminate or reduce risk can include actions such as changing equipment or processes, using protective equipment, or providing or undertaking suitable training. The competent person should carry out separate risk assessments for each workplace and any other locations where the business conducts its activities. How to identify hazards in the workplace Many hazards associated with work activities will be obvious, such as lifting or handling heavy objects. However, a methodical walk around a workplace can help to reveal risks and hazards that might otherwise be overlooked - for example, items that might pose a trip hazard, or floors that are slippery in wet weather. Risk assessments must also identify hazards that could have longterm effects on health, such as ongoing exposure to noise. Employers should involve their employees in the process of identifying hazards. Employees will be more familiar with their work activities and be able to highlight hazards that their employer or manager might overlook. It is important to consider all activities that take place in the workplace, including occasional operations such as maintenance and cleaning. The HSE publishes guidance tailored to specific industries. Go to industries.htm for more details. Who is at risk in the workplace? Any person in the workplace can be at risk. This includes business owners, employees, contractors, customers, suppliers, visitors, the general public and any other person affected by the work. Business owners who share their workspace with another firm will also need to consider any risks posed to other workers on the premises who are unconnected with their business. Different groups of people may face different risks. For example, young workers may be at greater risk than more experienced employees, and pregnant women may face additional hazards. It is also important to take into account risks to members of the public - for example, passers-by may be at risk from activities on a construction site. Evaluating the risks Evaluating the risks involves thinking about how a hazard may cause harm, the likelihood of this happening, and the practical measures needed to prevent it. The aim is to take 'reasonable' action to eliminate the risk completely or to control the risk, so that the potential hazard is unlikely to cause harm. The HSE recommends applying the following principles when controlling risks: BIF289 Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Page 3 of 5

4 1. Use a less risky option - for example, switch to a safer machine or use a less hazardous material. 2. Prevent access to the hazard - for example, by installing protective screens. 3. Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard - for example, by erecting barriers to protect passers-by. 4. Issue personal protective equipment, such as hard hats and protective goggles. 5. Provide welfare facilities - for example, washing facilities. Safety precautions do not need to be expensive or resource-intensive, but business owners must do whatever is reasonably practicable to reduce health and safety risks. Again, involving employees and others affected by work activities can help evaluate the risks and identify the most suitable precautions. What records must business owners keep? Written records of risk assessments help to keep a workplace safe and provide evidence that the employer has fulfilled their legal obligation to assess and control health and safety risks. If a business has five or more employees, it must keep written records of the significant findings of each risk assessment carried out. This can be a relatively simple document. The length will depend on the size of the business and the number of hazards identified. A written record should show: The hazards identified. Who might be harmed by each hazard and how. What the business already does to reduce risk. What further action is necessary to eliminate or reduce the risk. Who will take the action and when. Confirmation of implementation of the action. The HSE provides a risk assessment record template, which also includes a health and safety policy, and a record of health and safety arrangements. Go to to download the template. Carrying out regular risk assessments Risk assessments should be carried out or reviewed whenever there is a significant change to work activities. This could be the introduction of new working practices or procedures, or using new equipment or materials. If a business moves to new premises or starts a new type of work, it is important to carry out a new risk assessment. Employers should also review and update risk assessments regularly to make sure they remain effective. BIF289 Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Page 4 of 5

5 Hints and tips Trade associations in certain sectors can provide useful advice on reducing risks in specific sectors. Written records must be kept to show that appropriate and adequate risk assessments have been carried out. Employees should be asked to help identify potential hazards and suggest precautionary measures. Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly and a new assessment should be carried out whenever significant changes occur. Employers who fail to carry out adequate risk assessments may face fines or imprisonment and can be disqualified as company directors. Further information To access hundreds of practical factsheets, market reports and small business guides, go to: Website: BIF 2 An Introduction to Health and Safety Regulations BIF 22 A Guide to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) BIF 39 A Health and Safety Compliance Checklist BIF 95 Choosing and Using a Health and Safety Consultant BIF 140 A Guide to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 BIF 376 A Checklist for a Health and Safety Risk Assessment BIF 466 A Guide to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Useful contacts The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for health and safety regulation in Great Britain. It publishes guidance on the health and safety obligations of employers. Tel: Website: The Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) is responsible for health and safety regulation in Northern Ireland. It provides information on the health and safety obligations of employers. Tel: Website: DISCLAIMER While all reasonable efforts have been made, the publisher makes no warranties that this information is accurate and up-to-date and will not be responsible for any errors or omissions in the information nor any consequences of any errors or omissions. Professional advice should be sought where appropriate. Cobweb Information Ltd, Unit 9 Bankside, The Watermark, Gateshead, NE11 9SY. Tel: Website: BIF289 Carrying Out Health and Safety Risk Assessments Page 5 of 5

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