How to write a risk assessment (with examples)

Better Safety Health & Safety Consultant
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How to write a risk assessment (with examples)

 Show Interest
Like many official documents in the workplace, it can be a little uncomfortable having to write them if you haven’t really done it before.

It is becoming more common that people who have no real background in health and safety are being asked to take on leadership responsibility for it within their business.

We know that health and safety is not the most interesting of subjects for some managers and leaders.  We also know that many believe health and safety is “all about risk assessments.”  Sadly, this is not true.

Health and Safety applied correctly within a business can see lots of benefits.  It can help to bring your workforce closer together, shorten lines of communication and open up a solutions-driven workforce.  You should involve all levels of your staff in health and safety.

That all being said and done, there is a piece of legislation that says an employer must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk.  If you want to read more around this, the regulation is called The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.  The Health and Safety Executive produce lots of highly useful material on their website which is free to use.

In the meantime, why don’t we give you some basic elements and examples to think about, to create a risk assessment?

All health and safety risk assessments consist of five basic elements:

1.      Identify the hazards in your workplace

2.      Identify who can be harmed and how

3.      Identify controls that you have in place to prevent the hazards from becoming realised

4.      Record your findings and implement the actions

5.      Review your document to make sure it remains fit for purpose

 1.0  Identify the hazards
A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm.  You are not expected to think of every single hazard that could ever happen in the workplace.

If you work in a retail store with lots of cash, it would be reasonable to consider robbery as a hazard.  It may not be sensible to consider lightning strike as a reasonable hazard inside the same shop.

Straight away you should see that some hazards are more serious in certain sectors.  It is a sad fact that emergency response teams (police, fire, ambulance crews) are becoming more at risk of attack from members of the public.  While we may all agree that this is unacceptable, we must also live in the real world.  This is happening and therefore, we need to protect our workforce.

Some common hazards to include in risk assessments may include:

·         Lone working
·         Robbery
·         Trailing cables and wires
·         Using electrical equipment at work
·         Driving for work purposes
·         Using computers, mobile phones, laptops, etc. in work

There are so many hazards in different workplaces that it would take months to record them in this article.  Hopefully, you can take the above examples and start to explore why they are hazards.

2.0 Identify who can be harmed and how
When we think about who can be harmed, it important to consider not just the employees working for your business.  There may be other people to consider when writing your risk assessment too:

·         Authorised visitors to your site (contractors, maintenance staff)
·         Unauthorised persons (burglary, people who have been refused access)
·         Visiting auditors / official inspectors
·         Customers

Think about your premises and the tasks that are carried out there.

If you are using a generator to power temporary lights, who could become overwhelmed by the fumes?

If you are at a call centre, who can trip over trailing cables and wires?

If you are in a retail store, who could be affected by an armed robbery?

You also need to think about how people can be harmed.  When you are doing this, think about what is most likely.  Slipping or tripping over spilled liquid could result in death in very extreme circumstances.  Most LIKELY however, would be bruising, cuts, sprains or fractures.  Don’t try to over egg the pudding.  Think about practical injuries, not unrealistic ones.

Driving while tired – death of self or others

Using a laptop for long periods of time – eye strain, upper limb disorders such as repetitive strain injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.

3.0 Identify controls you have in place
We have looked at the types of hazards, who can be harmed and how.  The third stage is to think about how you can try to prevent the hazards from becoming realised into accidents or incidents.

We have a really useful tool in health and safety to help you deal with risks to safety.  We call it the hierarchy of need.

It follows a simple process:

·         Can I eliminate the hazard completely? If yes, eliminate it. If no,
·         Can I reduce the hazard in any way such as restricting people who would be exposed?
·         Can I substitute a hazardous activity for a less hazardous one?
·         Can I give people instructions, information or training to mitigate the hazards?
·         Do people need to wear personal protective equipment to do this task?

Where possible, it is always better to start at the top of the list.  If you can eliminate the hazardous task completely, why don’t you?

Imagine lots of trailing cables in an office. Can cables be eliminated?  Highly unlikely you may say. Have you considered re-designing the room to have cables come from the floor, or have desks against the walls with cables behind them?  If not, would it be possible to buy equipment to tidy the cables up, or have a cable mat installed?

Working at height (especially between 0.5 metres and 1.2 metres) remains one the largest activities for accidents and injuries in the United Kingdom.  Does the task require someone to work at height?  Can you provide a better method of protecting the employee if they need to work at height?  In a retail store with customers moving around, is a hop-up the very best we can do?  Are there alternatives that offer greater protection?

4.0 Record your findings
Once you have followed the three steps above, it would be sensible to record all the work you have done in a document.

There are lots of different risk assessment forms available.  Some of them look like they belong on a spaceship and you need three advanced degrees in physics to use them…You don’t!

Some areas of health and safety might need highly detailed risk assessments with different tools on them to calculate risk.  This is for industries with lots of high risk such as rail, construction and nuclear.  For most businesses, you can make do with basic risk assessments.

Remember that a risk assessment is designed so that people who are doing the job can understand what they need to do.  The less technical, the better.  Use pictures if you think it is appropriate!

Be wary of health and safety consultants who try to sell you all-singing, all-dancing documents.  They will overcomplicate your health and safety process, and earn themselves a nice fee too.  Keep It Simple!

The above is a basic example of how to write a risk assessment and record your findings.  No rocket science degree required!

5.0 Review your risk assessment
It is sensible to review your risk assessments at set intervals such as every year.  You do not need to change the information contained within it if you think it is all still fit for purpose.

However, if things change for an individual (pregnancy injury or disability) or there is a significant change (laptops replaced by MacBook’s – MacBook’s have much smaller keyboards and a smaller trackpad), you may need to revisit the risk assessment.

We hope that you found this article useful.  It is designed to help you understand one element of health and safety management.

If you would like more information, or if you would simply like to have a chat with some feedback, we’d love to hear from you:

☎ 0151 317 4333 (select option 1)
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Better Safety Health & Safety Consultant

I am a Chartered Safety Practitioner with over a decade of experience in both operational and strategic management of safety and health.

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