While many organisations carry out risk assessments, they are particularly important in construction operations. This sector is responsible for the highest number of fatal injuries to workers in the UK. 38 workers suffered a fatal injury in the UK construction sector 2017/18, accounting for 26% of the period’s 144 fatal workplace injuries.
Performing a risk assessment is an essential part of ensuring the safety of your workers and members of the public. Not only will it help to prevent injury or death, it allows you to demonstrate your duty of care and avoid expensive fines or litigation.
The HSE gives the five steps required to perform a risk assessment, which we have detailed below. For more in-depth information about risk assessments, visit the HSE’s website.
When performing your risk assessment, it’s important to understand the difference between a hazard and a risk.
- A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer, etc.
- The risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be
Step 1: Identify the hazards
The first step is to walk around your workplace to think about and identify any potential hazards. When you work somewhere every day, you get used to procedures and may overlook certain dangers. It’s best to try to view the activities and processes in the workplace from a fresh perspective to accurately identify any associated hazards.
When you’re identifying hazards, you may want to:
- re-read manufacturers’ instructions for equipment and substances
- check back through your accident reports, near misses and sickness records
- consider non-routine activities such as cleaning and maintenance
- think about long-term hazards like exposure to loud noises or harmful substances
- ask workers to identify hazards that may not be obvious to you
Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how
For each hazard that you identify, you need to think about who might be harmed by it and how. This means addressing the ways in which different groups of people are at risk. This may include workers, visitors, contractors or members of the public.
Some tips to identify who is at risk include:
- Consider any workers that may have special requirements. This may be young workers, new or expectant mothers, or workers with disabilities
- Take into account people who are not present at all times, such as visitors, contractors or maintenance operatives
- Remember to account for members of the public if your activities could injure them
- If you share your workplace with other businesses, consider how your work affects them, and how their work may affect you
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Once you have identified a hazard, you must then determine how likely it is to cause harm. It is not possible to completely eliminate all risks, but you must make sure that you are aware of the main risks and how to manage them responsibly.
You are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks, and your actions to control risk should be ‘reasonably practicable’. You do not need to take action if the cost, time or effort would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.
When you identify a hazard, ask:
- Can I eliminate the risk altogether?
- If now, how can I control the risk so that harm is unlikely?
Practical precautions include:
- Trying a less risky method
- Preventing or limiting access to the hazard
- Issuing personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Providing first aid facilities
- Providing additional training
Step 4: Record your significant findings
Now that you’ve determined how to reduce the risks in your workplace, the law requires you to record your findings. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to do this, but it is still useful for your own records.
Recording your findings and how you plan to minimise risk will help you to review your procedures and can show that you are acting responsibly as an employer should an incident occur. The HSE has a useful risk assessment template on their website.
Your risk assessment should show that you:
- performed a proper check
- determined who might be affected
- took this into account and dealt with the obvious significant hazards
- put reasonable precautions in place
- ensured that the remaining risk is low
- involved employees or their representatives in the process
Step 5: Review your assessment and update if necessary
You must make sure to regularly review and update your risk assessment. New equipment, procedures or members of staff may create additional hazards that you need to address.
Try to update your risk assessment on a regular schedule. If possible, reevaluate it each time there is a change in the workplace.
Whenever you review your risk assessment, ask:
- Have there been any significant changes?
- Are there any outstanding improvements that you still need to make?
- Have your workers identified any additional hazards?
- What have you learned from any accidents or near misses?
Ajax Safe Access
Ajax Safe Access design, manufacture and install bespoke safety equipment to reduce hazards in workplaces throughout the UK.
If you identify a hazard that involves working from height, get in touch with us to see how we can help to minimise the risk.