The 5 Steps to Risk Assessment
Updated: Jun 1
This video is the second in a 3-part series about Risk Assessment. If you want to get an overview of risk assessment and benefits of doing risk assessment then we suggest you check out the first video here.
In this blog, I'm going to discuss the 5 steps of risk assessment, which are:
Identify the hazards
Decide who might be at harm
Evaluate the risk
Record your findings
Review on a regular basis
Step 1: Identify the hazards
Whether we are in an office or a workshop, we have to walk around the workplace and understand what could cause harm to us in this location. We have to think also about contributing factors - If we do this activity, or if someone else is working alongside us and they do a particular activity, could it have an impact on me or others?
We shouldn't focus on the trivial areas, we should concentrate on the significant hazards that really can cause the harm. And we must involve everyone that's going to be doing that task or could be affected.
There may be a requirement to refer to instructions and guides and data sheets or manufacturers reference sheets, depending on the task you're going to be doing. This could be the use of chemicals or equipment that requires additional guidance.
2. Decide who could be at harm
Is it just simply people within my group? Is it just myself? We have to consider whether there are additional controls that have to be put in place. Maybe there are expectant mothers in the workplace, or close by where we are working.
Are there young people that we've brought into our workplace, possibly on a college placement or young apprentices? These additional people can be at greater risk and may need additional controls for that.
We must also consider any visitors, contractors or people that would not normally be in the facility when we are undertaking this task. Are they familiar of what's going on? And could they be impacted? Could they walk into the area we're working in?
The last one, of course, is members of the public that we could be close by to, that may come into where we are working, and not be familiar with the work that is in place. If that is the case, we may have to put additional barriers in place.
3. Evaluate the risk
Consider how likely it is that each of the hazards could cause the harm, even after all precautions have been taken. It may be that there is still some risk so we have to look at whether that level of risk is acceptable, and if we can work with that.
We must continue to evaluate the risk. The aim is to try and make the risks as small as possible, but it's important to recognise that not all risks are the same. Some level of risk to an organisation may be acceptable, whereas to another organisation, this may be unacceptable.
Principles of Prevention
Try a less risky option. Can we do it a little bit better?
Prevent access to the hazard (through guarding)
Organize work to reduce exposure to the hazard
Provide welfare facilities (washing facilities to remove contamination, first-aid)
Common Problems with Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is an extremely good methodology, but only if it's used correctly. There are some common problems that occur around risk assessment...
Thinking some Risks Have Already been assessed:
It is often likely to find risk assessments that have been in place for a long, long time, and have never been reviewed to see if there are any changes.
Variation of Work; Employees who move from one site to another
The common problem here is that an individual undertakes a risk assessment (an operations manager, a service manager, a health and safety adviser), but doesn't involve the people who will undertake the tasks.
Not involving the people who undertake the task means that the health and safety advisor may not know exactly what is going on. It's not their role to be doing that type of work. Their role is to be giving advice, and therefore the advice should be around the methodology of doing the risk assessment.
The H&S Advisor should be encouraging the people who undertake the work to actually undertake the risk assessment, and for them to look at potential hazards, of course, providing some guidance and support along the way.
Sharing of a workplace
Often work activities go on when there are other work activities, possibly by other companies happening at a similar time - particularly if we think about a building site.
We could be sharing a workplace location; it could be that the activities they're involved in doing could have an impact on us. And therefore, we have to think about whether we should have a joined up approach, understanding when there are common work activities taking place.
Step 4: Record the Findings
If you employ 5 or more people, then you must record the significant findings of your risk assessment. You need to be able to show that proper checks have been made, that you've asked the appropriate questions of the people that could be affected and that you've handled and dealt with the significant hazards.
It is not just a case of documenting the hazards - you have to show that you have taken an assessment measure to minimise those risks. And of course, this recorded information will also be used as evidence in case something does happen.
In some cases, risk assessments may need to refer to other documentation within your system. It may be that you need to refer to other risk assessments, policies or rules that are in the workplace. And they may also have lists of other hazards and precautions that we need to be aware of.
Step 5: Review the risk assessment
Because things are constantly changing, you must have a process in place for reviewing risk assessments. Many people within an organisation might say "Oh, we still do it exactly the same way as we've always done it".
It may seem like it's the same, but there are always changes:
People that are doing it are different
Equipment and tools that we're using are different
Other people working alongside us is different
The location of where the activity is happening,
The environment and what it's like outside and the weather
So, it is important to look at where our higher critical risks are, and put review processes in place at set intervals to confirm the risks are still relevant and the barriers in place as part of the risk assessment are still effective and working. Liaising with the workforce and engagement of people involved is important in this process.
It is important to also recognise that when our work activity happens, a review should take place at that stage, effectively by the people that are undertaking the work. This is to see if there is a requirement to do anything dynamic.
Do we need to document that? Do we have to take a step back, and maybe do another assessment and maybe identify some additional controls? or even more so, we may simply have to stop the job, because the risk assessment isn't suitable and sufficient for the task at hand. It is important that the review step is understood and carried out.
Don't Just Walk Past the Activity!
If we see an activity happening that we're aware the risk assessment should not allow, we should prevent that. We should step in where we can, where it's safe to do so of course, and raise awareness.
We may need to provide additional education or guidance to the person that's undertaking the task. Or we may have to simply stop the job because we may be aware of other human errors that could be contributing factors to the hazards.
When I refer to this, I would probably think along the lines of another type of activity, another type of training session we do, that can provide some guidance around this.
Human behaviours and human errors can often be outside of the workforce, so it’s important to recognise what those are, and put in place the measures to potentially stop the job or remove the person from the job.
Compliance Requirements of Risk Assessment
Risk assessments should refer to compliance requirements, such as legal obligations that we need to follow in a specific work activity. These are not just an assessment of risk, but something that we must do that's guided to us by the law.
If we're not aware of what that is, we should refer to someone who does know, to provide us with advice - whether that be a health and safety advisor or an environmental consultant, or simply going to the health and safety executives website.
Risk Assessment is a legal requirement
Follow the '5 Steps to Risk Assessment'
Risk Assessment is a means to an end - not an end in itself
The aim is to keep people safe - not just have good paperwork
If you’d like to see more details of risk assessments in use, then watch the next video where we go through a couple of practical examples of risk assessments for working at height, and workshop activities. Or as mentioned at the start of the blog, you can watch the previous video, where I discussed the benefits of risk assessment.