As part of managing health and safety in your organisation, the HSE advises the 5 steps to risk assessment approach.
This is all about controlling risks in your workplace, and to do this it is necessary to think about what processes or procedures in your business could potentially cause harm to employees, and what you might do to reduce or eliminate the risk.
This is known as a “Risk Assessment” and is a procedure the law requires all employers to carry out. You don’t necessarily have to write it down if you have fewer than 5 employees but it’s good practice to formalise it anyway.
For one, it lets your employees know that you take their health and safety seriously, and secondly you are going to have to formalise and document it when you get your 6th employee anyway. So why not start properly?
Remember. The HSE don’t want to burden you with producing lots of paperwork, so keep it simple by thinking about the real risks and those that are more likely to happen that could cause most harm or illness.
What are the five steps to risk assessment?
1). Identify the Hazards. (anything with the potential to cause harm)
This can sometimes be the most difficult step as we often get familiar with our surroundings, and things that may seem dangerous to others can become a part of what we accept as normal.
A good place to start is by walking around your place of work (it can help if you have somebody else with you).
Observe and think about the processes, activities and any substances used in the workplace.
Try these other tactics;
> If you have sufficient accident and absence records, look back to see if there any patterns of injury or ill health that stand out.
> Check manufacturer’s data sheets for hazards with chemicals that you might be using. Don’t forget the cleaner’s cupboard either as there can be some nasty concoctions lurking in there.
> Machinery instruction books are a good source of hazard information. Manufacturers have learned the hard way over the years and are very keen to point out things they could be blamed for, particularly where lack of maintenance is involved!
> It’s not all about now either. Think about the long term. Is your place noisy or dusty? [link to noise posts]
> High levels of noise over a prolonged period can cause irreversible hearing loss while dusty conditions or poor-quality ventilation can lead to severe respiratory diseases.
Also, the HSE website [www.hse.gov.uk] is a huge resource on controlling workplace hazards.
Employers have a duty to assess the health and safety risks faced by their workers and must check for potential hazards including both physical and mental, as well as biological and chemical.
Examples of these would be:
• Physical Hazards: Lifting, manual handling, slips, trips, noise, faulty electrical equipment, machinery, moving plant, dust, power tools
• Mental Hazards: Excessive workload, long hours, unrealistic expectations and targets, working with high-need clients, bullying, exclusion, being set up to fail. These are also known as ‘psycho-social’ hazards which over time can be as debilitating as physical injuries or physical illness.
• Chemical Hazards: Cleaning fluids, paints, thinners, solvents, bleach aerosols.
• Biological Hazards: T.B, Hepatitis, Weils disease, Legionella plus many other bacterial and viral diseases faced by healthcare professionals, railway workers, maintenance staff, lab workers, carers, plumbers, electricians.
2). Who may be harmed, and how?
Who in your organisation may be harmed by the work processes and procedures, and how?
Don’t forget that you need to include any self-employed contractors, part-time worker and visitors to your premises. Identify all those who may be at risk.
Observe your work routines in each department if you have more than one and note down the significant risks. Don’t waste time on trivialities but identify those hazards that have the potential to do most harm.
Employers must review work routines in all the different locations and situations where their staff are employed. For example:
• If you have workers that go out to visit clients, particularly visiting clients in their own homes then consider the hazards involved in lone working.
• In shops, hazards are found in manual handling, slips and trips from spillages and stock in the shop and storerooms. Staff face the risk of violence from customers and intruders, especially in the evenings.
• In offices consider workstation equipment (i.e. desk, screen, keyboard and chair). These must be correctly adjusted to suit each employee, and employees must be aware of how to do it.
• In hairdressers, barber shops, beauty salons consider the hazards of common everyday chemicals such as bleach, peroxides and acetone etc, and the use of hairdryers and electric razors next to wash basins, as well as slips and trips.
• In all environments consider the dangers of electricity, faulty appliances, extension leads causing overload and trip hazards.
These are just some examples, but in addition employers have special duties towards the health and safety of young workers, disabled employees, night-workers, shift-workers, and pregnant or nursing mothers.
Step 3: Assess the risk and take action to control or eliminate.
Life is not without risk and this is clearly recognised by the HSE and within the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
However, employers must consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm, and the severity of that harm. (This is the basis of your risk assessment)
This will determine whether the employer should aim to reduce the level of risk by changing the dangerous for the less dangerous, or preferably taking steps to remove the hazard completely.
Often a hazard cannot be completely removed but it can be managed so that it’s at an acceptably safe level.
This is achieved by choosing safer equipment to carry out the task, or replacing toxic or irritant substances with something safer, changing a work process, or moving the environment around to create a safer working area.
Whatever way you decide to do it the key to it all working safely is training and communication. Without anybody knowing why you’ve implemented these changes, or without any training in a new piece of equipment or way of working then all the efforts are for nothing.
Too many employers have the right intentions but fail to communicate correctly with the staff then blame everybody else when it all goes wrong.
Even after all precautions have been taken, some risk usually remains.
The task then is to decide for each remaining hazard whether the risk remains high, medium or low and implement further controls, training and review to safely manage the situation.
Step 4: Record the significant findings.
Employers with five or less staff are not required to record in writing the main findings of the risk assessment, but it makes good practice to do so, particularly if there is an accident in the workplace.
Plus, it conveys a strong message to your small work force that there is a commitment towards their safety and health at work.
The record should include details of hazards identified in the risk assessment, and action taken to reduce or eliminate risk.
It does not have to be clever or complicated.
An example might be the risk of fire from grinding activities in the work-shop area.
The controls might be that all grinding is carried out in a brick-built structure with clean concrete floors. Floors are swept daily, and all waste is deposited in steel bins with good fitting steel lids which are emptied frequently. Adequate and suitable fire extinguishers are correctly located to hand and are checked regularly and serviced annually. All workshop staff have been trained in fire awareness and the use of extinguishers, and a fire check is conducted before leaving the building at night.
This simple record provides proof that the assessment was carried out, the hazards identified, the control measures put in place and it was communicated to all relevant staff through training.
This would now be regarded as a low risk of injury through fire to the employees working in that area.
If on the other hand grinding was carried out in a wooden shed with a wooden floor that was soaked in solvents with oily rags scattered about and overflowing open bins, and was manned by unsupervised young workers, then that would be considered as a very high risk activity.
That is what your risk assessment is all about. Taking time out to view your business from a safety angle, reviewing where changes can and should be made and recording the findings and controls.
You can then use it as the basis for future reviews as your business grows and changes.
Step 5: Review the risk assessment regularly.
Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.
Few workplaces stay the same. Eventually a business will increase its staff, bring in new equipment and procedures or even move premises. All these occurrences introduce new hazards which need looking at and managing.
Therefore, it makes sense to review your risk assessments on an ongoing basis.
Ask yourself the following questions.
• Have there been any significant changes since last reviewed?
• Has there been a significant passage of time since the last review? (i.e. 12 months or more).
• Have workers reported a problem?
• Have there been any accidents or reported near misses that we can learn from?
• Are the agreed safe working practices still being applied?
• Has the workload increased?
Above all else, remember to communicate your safety message clearly to all staff. Without employees on board and fully understanding the reasons for change it will be feared, kicked against and sabotaged.
Communication is key!