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Health & Safety

A beginner’s guide to writing a risk assessment in five steps.

5 minute read

Writing this blog post reminds me how I got involved in health and safety training when I worked in sports and leisure management.  Whilst working as a Duty Manager at a newly opened Sports Centre in southwest London, I was delegated the responsibility of health and safety. One of my first tasks was to complete a risk assessment for the Sports Centre. As you can imagine, not knowing where to begin like most people, I carried out a quick Google search which only raised more questions!

Following on from that daunting experience I decided to get myself trained and qualified in health and safety. You could say my journey into health and safety was a lucky accident.

That all seems a long time ago.  Since establishing Safely Does IT in 2006 I have taught numerous other people how to complete their own risk assessments.

The following is a beginners guide to writing a risk assessment using the standard five step process.

1. Identify the hazards

First, it is good to establish the terminology. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm and will primarily be affected by your occupation. Hazards can be categorised as physical, chemical, ergonomic, psychosocial etc.

Risk is the likelihood; and severity of the hazard affecting someone. Normally these factors are both given a score of 0-10. If you multiply these numbers together this gives, your risk rating for the hazard. Establishing a risk rating helps you to identify your priority hazards.

2. Decide who can be harmed and how

Think about who could be harmed by the hazards you have already identified and how? This is not a fortune telling activity – most of the hazards are obvious. Remember to consult everyone within the business and do not forget to remember customers; contractors; or anyone who could be affected by the work you do. It is essential you include vulnerable groups such as children or people with special educational needs.

Think outside of the box. I can remember delivering a risk assessment course for a nursery around ten years ago and I was surprised one of the hazards they had included was squirrels. When I raised this with them the staff mentioned that in the past the squirrels had hidden nuts from bird tables in the garden. Obviously, any child with a nut allergy would be at risk.

3. Decide on control measures

This is the stage where issues can occur because people can under or over evaluate the control measures to manage the hazards. We have all heard of over evaluated control measure stories in the press where children’s games such as conkers or throwing snowballs have been banned due to health and safety. On a more serious side, poor risk management can lead to injury, illness or even death.

Health and safety legislation sets out what we must do as a minimum by law but also some of the responsibilities are quantified by the phrase “so far as is reasonably practicable”. In laypersons turns this means the hazard is balanced between the cost, time and trouble taken to manage the hazard.

A hierarchy of control is normally used to control the hazard.  The hierarchy starts with elimination of the hazard if this is reasonably practical; and where this is not possible, the latter stages rely on discipline based upon policies and procedures.  The overall aim is to remove any negative human behaviour influence.

4. Record your findings and implement them

It is important that your risk assessment is suitable and sufficient. On numerous occasions I have seen risk assessments copied from other business. I even found on one occasion where a business forgot to remove the previous business name of the document. Obviously, this is not suitable.

In some situations, you might need a specialist to conduct your risk assessment such as a fire risk assessor. This satisfies the sufficient element. Certain Health and Safety laws such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and the Manual Handling Operation Regulations require a more specific approach to risk assessment.

Safely Does IT provides training on both of these health and safety subjects.

There is no specified document to record your risk assessment. However, it is important to remember that if there was a civil or criminal case against your business, whatever document you use may be shown to the court.  So, the risk assessment should be a well written document recording your due care and attention to this requirement for your business.

When implementing your findings, it is important to remember the first two steps and concentrate on the most significant hazards rather than the mundane.

5. Review and Update

It is important once you have completed your risk assessment not put your feet up! Risk assessment is a continuous process.  The hazards you have already identified are always present and further hazards may be on the horizon.  So, if there is an accident or if anything changes in your business environment, the risk assessment should be reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose.  You could set annual reminders in your diary at a minimum, to reflect on your risk assessment to ensure it remains relevant for your business.

It is important not to be complacent and remember Safety Is Not Achieved By Accident.

Safely Does IT is a provider of health and safety courses including the Level 2 Award in Principles of Risk Assessment.

Disclaimer: (The information is for general guidance only and does not represent specific advice tailored to your own business. Please seek your own legal and technical advice.)

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