Risk Assessment

Last reviewed on 10/07/2017 11:38

This page gives information on when and why workplace risk assessments are necessary and advice on how to conduct them.

You will also find details of relevant legislation and links to further information and advice.

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What is a Risk Assessment?

A Risk Assessment is a systematic method of looking at work activities, considering what could go wrong, and deciding on suitable control measures to prevent loss, damage or injury in the workplace. The Assessment should include the controls required to eliminate, reduce or minimise the risks.


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Why conduct a Risk Assessment?

Risk Assessments are a fundamental requirement for businesses. If you don’t know, or appreciate where the risks are, you are putting yourself, your employees, your customers and your organisation in danger.

Employers must look at all work activities that could cause harm in order to decide whether they are doing enough to meet their legal obligations. This is a minimum requirement. If it is reasonably practicable to do so, employers should consider doing more than the legal minimum.

The aim should always be to reduce the risks as much as is 'reasonably practicable'.

'Reasonably practicable' is a legal term that means employers must balance the cost of steps that they could take to reduce a risk against the degree of risk presented.

When reckoning costs, the time, trouble and effort required should be included and not just the financial cost.


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What should a Risk Assessment cover?

This will depend on the organisation and may vary depending on the nature of the work. However, Assessments must consider everyone who could be affected by that activity.

As well as employees, others who could be affected must also be considered. This includes contractors, temporary workers, volunteers and the general public.

Some groups are considered more vulnerable, such as young persons under 18 and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The legislation specifically asks employers to consider the risks posed to these groups and put in place additional controls if they are required.


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Legal duties and obligations around Risk Assessment

The Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations 1999 require all employers and the self-employed to assess the risks from their work on anyone who may be affected by their activities.

The Regulations require employers to carry out a systematic examination of their work activities and record the significant findings of the Assessment. If an employer has five or more employees, the findings must be recorded in writing.

→ Read more on The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Other regulations As well as the assessment of general work activities, there are a number of pieces of legislation that look for a specific Risk Assessment including:

Follow the links for further information on these topics.

The above regulations require employers to look at specific matters in relation to the risks that are likely to be encountered.


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Assessing risks in the workplace

There are no hard and fast rules as to how Risk Assessments should be carried out, as every organisation is different and may require a slightly different approach. It’s important that Risk Assessments are carried out systematically and all of the foreseeable risks considered.

In order to assess risks it is important to be aware of the distinction between hazard and risk.

The following definitions are usually applied to these terms:

  • Hazard: Anything with the potential to cause harm, electricity, hazardous substances and noise are examples of typical hazards.
  • Risk: The likelihood that damage, loss or injury will be caused by a hazard and how severe the outcome may be.

The Health and Safety Executive recommend an approach where you carry out the process in five steps:

  • identify the hazards associated with work activities
  • identify who could be harmed by those hazards
  • identify how you manage the risks at present and what further steps might be required to reduce the risks further. These are your control measures.
  • record the findings of your assessment and inform those at risk of the controls
  • review the risk assessment on a regular basis, e.g. if the staff, the activity, or the equipment used change.

It is a good idea to review your assessments at least annually.

Look at each activity as critically as possible, observing how it is carried out, and checking existing guidelines and information.

Check accident reports and inspection and maintenance records to see if anything can be learned from existing records.


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Controlling risks

When deciding on control measures the following principles should be applied:

  • can the risk be avoided or eliminated?
  • can the risks be contained at source?
  • can the work be adapted to suit the individual? e.g. layout of workplace, choice of equipment and methods of working
  • can engineering or technical controls be used?

Information, instruction and training, and providing personal protective equipment should always be considered as a last resort after the above controls have been considered.

Employers should, wherever possible, give priority to those controls that best protect everyone exposed to the risk.

Remember that additional controls may be required to protect vulnerable groups, such as young people or pregnant workers.


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Involving employees and communicating findings

It is important to involve the people who carry out the activity in the Risk Assessment. They will be able to bring their knowledge, experience and understanding of the activity.

They will have an understanding of exactly how the work is carried out and will look at it from a different perspective from their manager or supervisor.

Carrying out the Assessment is just the first step. Once the Assessment has been carried out, make sure that everyone involved in the activity, or exposed to the risk, is made aware of the findings of the Assessment.


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How detailed should a Risk Assessment be?

The level of detail recorded in the Assessment should relate to the level of risk.

Where an organisation operates similar activities from similar workplaces, they may produce a basic, or generic Risk Assessment that addresses those risks.

However, local circumstances may require you to adapt or amend the Assessment for each workplace or work activity.


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Further information on making Risk Assessments

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives

Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free and priced risk assessment guidance from the Health and Safety Executive

Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:


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