Accidents and ill health have a detrimental effect on people’s lives at the best of times, but if they were caused by employer negligence then this has a huge impact on your business too. Business output is lost due to the employee being absent from work whilst recovering, your insurance premiums increase, you may have to replace broken machinery, and in some cases employers have been taken to court over their negligence.
Carrying out a risk assessment is important for your business as it helps to protect both your employees and your assets from potential hazards. An up to date risk assessment is also vital to ensure that your business complies with current Health and Safety legislation. The law does not expect you to eliminate all possible risks; as an employer you are required to protect employees and visitors as far as is reasonably practicable.
Identify the hazards:
• Start by walking around your workplace and taking a good look at everything that could possibly cause harm, for example uneven floor surfaces, loose wiring, rubbish stored in fire exits etc.
• Ask your employees if they have noticed anything. Sometimes when you spend a lot of time in the same place you can start to overlook things so get several pairs of eyes on the case. The HSE website also lists a variety of common workplace hazards that you can use as a starting point.
• Check the manufacturers’ operating guide for any machinery that you have in the workplace, this will help you to identify if misuse will produce hazards. Also check the data sheets for any chemicals used on site to identify their potential hazards.
• Take a look through your accident book to identify what has proved to be hazardous in the past that may have been overlooked. It’s also a good idea to consider long-term hazards to health, for example high levels of exposure to noise or chemicals
Establish who might be harmed:
• Once you’ve identified what might potentially cause harm in your workplace then for each hazard you need to identify who might be harmed and in what way. For example employees working in the stock room will be more at risk from injuries caused by heavy lifting than employees working in the finance office.
• Some employees will have specific requirements that are personal to them, for example pregnant women will require a risk assessment tailored to their needs as there may be aspects of their role that were previously not hazardous but could now cause harm to mother or baby.
• Consider people who may not be on site all the time such as cleaners, contractors and visitors, as well as members of the public entering your premises.
Decide on the precautions:
• Once you’ve identified the potential hazards and who might be affected then the next step is to decide what you are going to do about them. Remember, the law requires you to do everything that is reasonably practicable to protect people from harm.
• Think about what you’re already doing in the case of each hazard, and what you could change. Consider whether you can eliminate the hazard altogether; and if not then work out how you can minimise the risk of harm.
• If you can’t eliminate the risk completely then control the risk in the following way: 1) try a less risky option e.g. use a less hazardous chemical; 2) prevent access to the hazard, e.g. by only allowing certain personnel into the area; 3) organise the workspace to reduce exposure to the hazard; 4) issue personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles and overalls, to minimise harm; 4) provide welfare facilities, such as a washing area to remove possible contamination.
Record and implement your findings:
• If you have more than 5 employees then, in order to comply with legislation, you need to record the results of your risk assessment and show how you have implemented the relevant changes. If you have less than 5 employees you’re not required to record your findings but it will be of benefit to you in the future if you do.
• The recording of your risk assessment doesn’t need to be perfect but you must be able to show that proper checks were made; you’ve identified who might be affected; you’ve dealt with all possible hazards and taken into account anyone that might be harmed; the remaining risk is eliminated or low enough; and that your employees were involved in the process.
• If you’ve identified that quite a lot of improvements need to be made then make an action plan and begin to tackle things. Start by ticking off a few of the easier or cheaper improvements that can be implemented. Then begin to implement long-term solutions for the more high risk hazards, including further training for staff.
Review and update the risk assessment:
• A risk assessment shouldn’t be a static, one-time thing. Your workplace will change and evolve over time with the introduction of new equipment, procedures, substances and new employees so your risk assessment should be reviewed regularly.
• You should be reviewing the risk assessment annually unless you have cause to review it more often. Preventing an accident is simpler than recovering from one after it’s happened.
• It can be all too easy to forget about your risk assessment review until something goes horribly wrong, forcing you to take it seriously again, by which point the damage has already been done. Ensure that it’s always high on your priority list.