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Health and safety: undertaking a risk assessment.


Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 implies the need for risk assessment as part of the general duties of employers to their employees. Section 3 of the Act extends this duty to anybody else affected by activities of the employer to include contractors, visitors, customers and members of the public. However, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) is more specific concerning the need for risk assessment.

Failure to comply with the relevant legislation can result in fines and/or imprisonment for senior managers or directors. By identifying hazards in the workplace and the likelihood of an accident occurring (the risk), employers can take action to deal with the most pressing problem areas. Reducing accidents in the workplace benefits both employer and employee through the creation of a safer working environment and savings due both to a reduction in lost time and productivity, and fewer accident claims.

Risk assessments comply with Health and Safety legislation and make accident prevention easier by identifying hazards before there is a problem. Carrying out risk assessments helps to improve workforce morale by conveying a "caring" attitude, however, it will require resources (in staff time) if they are to be undertaken thoroughly.

When carrying out a risk assessment be sure to involve everyone within the organisation, check the accident or "near- miss" log regularly and ensure that assessors are adequately trained.

This checklist does not aim to cover the complex legal issues, for which expert advice should be sought but provides a plan of action for those carrying out a risk assessment in their company or organisation.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards:

E: Using resources, units 2, 3


A Health and Safety risk assessment is a planned procedure in which all hazards in the workplace are identified and their risk potential evaluated. The risk potential is a combination of the likelihood (when could an accident happen) with the severity (what could result) if an accident did happen. Once the risk potential has been identified, it will enable you to decide whether you have taken sufficient precaution or whether you need to do more to prevent harm.

Action checklist

1. Risk assessments

Risk assessments should be an integral part of any Health and Safety management system. They are the basis of providing organisations with a safe and effective working environment. It is a continual process that looks at the risk potential of any workplace hazard. All risk assessments should be reviewed on a regular basis depending on the level of the risk potential and if there have been changes to any aspect of:

* working practices

* machinery location

* new equipment

* the capability of operators

* alterations to the working environment

* alterations to buildings

* dangerous materials.

In addition, the draft Regulatory Reform (Fire safety) Order 2005 requires fire risk assessments to be made. These look at the organisation's premises and classify what hazards are present, escape methods and fire fighting provisions.

2. Train assessors in identifying risk

Identifying risks in the workplace is not an easy task. Where the individual who is to carry out the risk assessment is not a health and safety officer, it is essential to obtain appropriate training, either from an internal source if available, or from an external agency in order to be sure that the appointed persons are 'competent'. The suppliers of equipment, machinery or chemicals can be a good source of advice.

It is important to train the assessors in rating the severity of a risk. Examples of hazards should be discussed with the trainee(s) to obtain some degree of standardisation.

3. Identify hazard types

The number and type of hazard will vary from place to place. Some of the more common are:

* fire--flammable materials, heat sources, inadequate escape routes, obstructions

* manual handling--lifting or reaching for items, carrying heavy or bulky loads long distances

* damaged electrical equipment or cable, cracked or damaged plugs and sockets, overloaded sockets

* slips, trips and falls--trailing leads, slippery floors, liquid spillage, leaks, inadequate guard rails

* environment--inadequate lighting or ventilation, insufficient space, noise, dust, fumes

* chemicals--lack of COSHH information, insufficient first aid measures, inadequate storage

* machinery--inadequate or insufficient guards, lack of clear gauges, control labels or emergency stops

* display screen equipment--inadequate workspace or seating, lack of breaks from inputting.

4. Define the scope and coverage of risk assessments

You can choose to be strict in the extent of risk assessments. However, blanket coverage in most circumstances would be a waste of time and effort. You need to consider which areas and tasks are likely to present the greatest hazards and concentrate on those to begin with. Look at accident books and near-miss reports; walk around your organisation; talk to management, operators and Health and Safety representatives, draw up a 'hit list' of areas and tasks that may constitute the highest risk. Plan your programme around this list and make this known to the workforce.

Take account of current legislation and ACOPs (Approved Codes Of Practice) when drawing up any guidelines for assessments. These include:

* Noise at Work Regulations 1989

* Environmental Protection Act 1990

* Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

* Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHO) 1992 as amended in 2002

* Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 as amended in 2002

* Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) 2002 and 2005 amendment

* Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 as amended in 2002.

* Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 as amended in 2003.

Be aware that several regulations require a specific risk assessment to be made.

5. Record the assessments

Create a document to record the assessments. This should be easy to understand and supported by explanatory notes. Make the text simple and clear, avoiding the temptation to over elaborate both the likelihood and severity ratings.

A quantitative risk assessment attempts to quantify the risk level in terms of the likelihood of an accident and its subsequent severity. A simple 3x3 matrix scoring system, suggested by the Health and Safety Executive, is a simple way to determine risk levels.


* 6-9 High risk

* 3-4 Medium risk

* 1-2 Low risk

Clearly the higher the likelihood and severity, the higher the risk will be. The likelihood is dependent on such factors as the control measures in place and frequency of exposure to the hazard. The severity will depend on the magnitude of the hazard, e.g. voltage, toxicity, etc.

6. Carry out the assessments

When conducting a risk assessment, you first have to assume that there are no control and safety measures in place and score the risk potential accordingly. Carry out the assessment again, this time scoring the risk potential for the existing controls. Record all the findings on the risk assessment record. Decide what action is needed to either eliminate any hazards or reduce them to a more acceptable level.

7. Carry out any action

The level of the risk potential will determine how quickly you need to take any action. In extreme circumstances this may mean stopping a machine or operation until the measures have been put in place. Consider if hazards can be reduced by such measures as:

* using less hazardous material

* changing the environment

* providing warning signs

* giving operators further training

* moving a machine or job

* modifying the machine by installing more guards or emergency stop buttons

* issuing personal protective equipment

* changing the operator.

When changes have been made, carry out a follow up assessment to check that they have proved effective.

8. Review and revise your assessment

Once a risk assessment has been carried out you will need to determine how long it will be before it is carried out again. This will depend on the risk potential but can also be influenced by the factors listed in action point 1. It is important to ensure that all employees are made aware of the risk assessments and all findings are incorporated into any Health and Safety training programme. As a measure of success you can evaluate the improvement by the number and type of accidents and near misses before and after carrying out the assessments. Remember that a risk assessment programme should be pro-active, not reactive, and properly managed will give long term benefits to every organisation.

How not to manage undertaking a risk assessment


* think of it as a one-off assessment--action must be taken on the results, reviewed and updated regularly

* ignore any risk as being too small

* forget to keep written documentation of the assessment

* fail to provide information, instruction or training.

Additional resources


Introduction to health and safety at work : the handbook for the NEBOSH National General Certificate, 2nd ed, Phil Hughes and Ed Ferrett

Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann, 2005

Health and safety at work, Hammond Suddards Edge

London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2002

Health and safety law: a modern guide, Jeffry Zindani

Welwyn Garden City: EMIS Professional Publishing, 2002

Risk management: ten principles, Jacqueline Jeynes

Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, 2002

Tolley's office health and safety handbook 2003, 3rd ed, David Wenham ed

Croydon: Butterworths Tolley, 2002

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Health and safety fire precautions planning (184)

Health and safety managing the process (157)

Internet resources

Health and Safety Executive:

Information on Risk management, including a practical guide and case studies.

RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences),

Incident Contact Centre launched by the HSE. Provides information on RIDDOR Regulations 1995 and has information on how to report accidents, diseases and dangerous occurrences.


Health and Safety Executive

Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge

London, SE1 9HS

Tel: 0845 345 0055

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

Edgbaston Park, 353 Bristol Road

Birmingham, B5 7ST

Tel: 0121 248 2000
Likelihood of occurrence Likelihood level

Harm is certain or near certain to occur High 3
Harm will often occur Medium 2
Harm will seldom occur Low 1

Severity of harm Severity level
Death or major injury (as defined by RIDDOR) Major 3

3 day injury or illness (as defined by RIDDOR) Serious 2
All other injuries or illnesses Slight 1

Risk = Severity x Likelihood

Likelihood Severity

 Slight 1 Serious 2 Major 3

Low 1 Low 1 Low 2 Medium 3

Medium 2 Low 2 Medium 4 High 6

High 3 Medium 3 High 6 High 9
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Title Annotation:Checklist 056
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Operations and Quality
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Previous Article:Setting objectives.
Next Article:A programme for benchmarking.

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