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Risk Assessments: It's Not All That Complicated

Let’s be honest: many people are overcome by a feeling of dread at the thought of carrying out risk assessments. If you think about it though, you’re doing them all day every day.

When the alarm goes off in the morning, will one more snooze make you late? That’s a risk assessment. When the baby is hanging on to the dog's ear, you’re carrying out a dynamic risk assessment and reviewing it constantly. When it comes to the workplace, though, the law demands we need to do this a little more formally.

Do I need to carry out a risk assessment?

If you're asking the question then the answer is almost certainly yes but you only need to record them if you have five or more members of staff.

Let’s break it down into bite-size chunks:

Firstly, identify the hazards.

The first thing is to understand that a hazard is anything that is likely to cause harm.

There are many hazards, but you will only be looking for those likely to cause harm which can be difficult to decide. An example that might help.

You have a room with a torn carpet, consider at what point it becomes a hazard.

• If the tear is in the corner?

• If it is under the table?

• If it is in the walkway?

• If it is in the doorway?

• If it is at the top of the stairs?

I think most of us will agree that that the first two aren’t a hazard so remember what you are looking for:

Now consider who might be harmed and how.

Not overly complicated, who might trip?

• Staff?

• Visitors?

• Public?

• Contractors?

• Others

How? Well, not much imagination is required to see how a torn carpet could cause somebody to trip.

Next, evaluate the risks.

Now you need to look at the hazard and understand the level of risk it creates, and from that decide on the best solution for reducing that risk to an acceptable level. This is always a judgement call by the assessor and often one person will have a different view to another. Let’s look at another example.

A children’s climbing frame is being installed in a public park. What should you put under it in case a child falls?

When I was a kid it was concrete but nobody thinks that is acceptable now. So what is?

  • Sand?

  • Rubber?

  • Wood chippings?

  • Grass?

I think we agree that most of these solutions are in use. This demonstrates that there are multiple acceptable solutions for most problems.

So let’s now look at severity and likelihood which will have a bearing on your solution.

Crossing the road is something we all do all the time but what is the correct way to do it.

Well if you look at the average teenager, it is anywhere any time but that is because:

  1. They are quick

  2. They bounce

People like me still follow the green cross code (stop look listen)

But what about young children? What control measures will you use here? Hold their hand?

What about the high street? Use a pedestrian crossing?

What about a motorway? Use an under/overpass?

All these are daily uses of severity and risk assessment. Kids are much more likely to get run over and the severity of harm will depend on the type of road but also the type of person. Old? Disabled?

Now you will need to consider the solutions to your hazards.

Your solution will need to be reasonably practicable. So what does reasonably practicable mean? It is a combination of time, expense and level of risk. Is it reasonable or practicable to expect a company to build an underpass for a quiet road that staff have to cross?

Solutions include what is known as the hierarchy of control. In other words, what is the preferred option? Can I get rid of the hazard altogether? Should I never cross the road?

If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is less likely?

Some practical steps you could take include:

  • Green cross code, holding hands, using a crossing

  • Preventing access to the hazards; Using an over/under pass?

  • Organising your business to reduce exposure to the hazard (e.g. you could arrange to remove the need for crossing the road, i.e arrange for packages to be collected by a contractor rather than your staff taking them to the distribution centre)

Issuing protective equipment; High visibility clothing so that drivers can see staff (if they need to work near vehicles)

  • First aid; This is a requirement for all organisations (see our first aid blog)

  • Involving and consulting with workers. This is really important, they will be able to tell you the hazards they face in their roles and potential solutions. Remember, the law says you must consult with your staff on anything that may affect their health and safety.

Finally, record your significant findings.

Make a record of your significant findings – including:

  • the hazards,

  • how people might be harmed by them

  • what you have in place to control the risks.

Any records need to be easy for others to understand and ensure that you focus on your control measures. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything

down. But it is useful to do this so you can review it at a later date, for example, if

something changes. If you have five or more employees you are required by law to write it down.

Remember you are required to review all your assessments if anything changes and minimally periodically.

The HSE suggests the following are examples of when a review is needed.

  • Have there been any significant changes?

  • Are there improvements you still need to make?

  • Have your workers spotted a problem?

  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

This is just a short guide, additional assistance on risk assessments can be found from the HSE here

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