You may guess that risk assessments are important from their title but what do they mean for you and your organisation? Can you define what a risk assessment is or describe what purpose they serve in health and safety? As an employer or the person in your organisation responsible for health and safety, you need to understand why risk assessments are a valuable tool that helps you protect staff and visitors. You also need to ensure that thorough risk assessments are being carried out in your workplace and in accordance with your legal obligations as an organisation or business.
A risk assessment is an assessment of the chance (or risk) that people could be harmed by potential hazards in the workplace. The assessment should be completed by someone within the organisation who is responsible for workplace health and safety. If you have five or more employees, the law requires you to keep a written record of your risk assessments. However, it’s good practice to keep a written record even if you don’t have as many as five employees so that you can always refer back to it if needed.
Risk assessments should investigate any potential sources of harm in the workplace from obvious things, such as wet floors during cleaning times, to less obvious things, such as the safety of water supply systems. Once hazards have been identified, a risk assessment needs to consider who would be at risk and how. For example, the wet floor is a hazard for both staff and visitors because they could slip and injure themselves.
Once hazards have been identified and detailed on the risk assessment, you need to decide how likely they are to happen. Estimating how severe the potential harm is and how likely it is to happen will help you decide whether or not you need to take extra precautions. In the case of the wet floor, some precautions could be: to put out wet floor signs during cleaning, to inform staff when the cleaning times are and to ensure that floor cleaning is done outside of business hours to avoid putting visitors at risk.
Once you’ve done your risk assessment, you need to review it regularly to ensure that it is still relevant. If anything changes with the workplace environment or if new hazards are identified, then the risk assessment needs to be updated. Old risk assessments should be kept for 2-5 years, depending on the hazards they identify and any health and safety issues which may have arisen in this time.
Prevention is key
Prevention is better than cure – especially in the workplace, where the health and safety of employees and visitors is paramount. As well as being a legal requirement, risk assessments are important because they offer the chance to identify and resolve hazards before anyone is harmed. Preventing accidents, injuries and illnesses also mean that staff are less likely to be absent from work, helping your organisation to be more productive and efficient. Therefore, risk assessments are helpful not only for the health hand safety of your team but also for the overall function of your organisation.