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Risk assessment Q&As

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Health and safety legislation can often feel like a burden to employers and employees, but in reality, as every business owner, director or manager knows they have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of employees and non-employees within the workplace.

This means that, if an employer is aware of a health and safety risk to employees, or ought to have known of its existence he will be liable if an employee is injured, killed or suffers illness as a result of the risk and the employer has failed to take reasonable steps to avoid it happening.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics reported 147 workers killed at work during 2018/2019. This raises the question as to whether there were suitable and sufficient risk assessments in place at the time of these accidents.

What are the implications of not having a risk assessment?

Risks not only harm people but also the business and may result in a number of consequences, such as:

  • Fines imposed by the HSE for breaching statutory duty.

  • Legal cases. The HSE will definitely investigate if it’s shown that a business is not complying with health and safety law. Should there be a breach of legislation, HSE Inspectors have the power to issue either an improvement notice (together with a fee), or prohibition notice.

  • Employee turnover will increase. Moral will be low if conditions are poor and friends/colleagues are injured.

  • Negative PR – confidence in the business will be low.

  • Loss of profits.

  • Increased insurance costs.

  • Cost of replacing staff who have been injured or are ill.

  • Sick pay for staff off work as a result of an accident.

A business will not survive if as a result of its activities workers are harmed.

What are the objectives of a risk assessment?

As detailed in the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations, a risk assessment is an important step in ensuring everyone’s safety.

A risk assessment is not about creating reams of paperwork but putting in place a systematic process of examining a work-related task or activity to identify any possible hazards, the risk of someone being harmed by the activity, and introducing control measures to avoid the risk of an accident.

Having a risk assessment in place will help to prevent accidents and reduce exposure to risks that could cause ill health. It should not be seen as a tick-box exercise which is just filed away.

When an incident occurs, investigating authorities are legally entitled to see risk assessments, procedures and controls alongside the accident report, so it really is in the best interests of everyone for risk assessments to be seen as a crucial part of the health and safety management system.

When should a risk assessment be completed?

Risk assessments need to be prepared for all work-related activities and the working environment, and if anything changes such as a new process or new equipment is introduced then the existing assessment should be revisited or a new one completed.

There can be two strands to completing a risk assessment: the activities and environment relating to your premises and also any working activities which are completed elsewhere, such as on someone else’s premises. Should a risk assessment be written down or not?

The regulations state that if your business has less than 5 employees, you are not required to record anything, but you must have considered the hazards within your business and put in place any necessary control measures. However, in some circumstances where the services you provide could pose a potential risk of harm to others, it may be prudent to ensure the risks are documented.

For businesses who have five or more employees they have a legal obligation to record any significant findings from the risk assessment. The findings must be recorded in a written report.

Should the risk assessment be completed by a health and safety expert?

Provided the person carrying out the risk assessment is competent and sufficiently trained the risk assessment can be completed internally. However, if you are not confident with all aspects of a risk assessment, especially for areas that require specialist knowledge then yes, an expert will be required.

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