Workplaces are dangerous places, rife with risks that impact everyone from the workers on the bottom rung to business owners at the top. Businesses have a legal responsibility to uphold the safety of their workplace premises and the safety of workers, as dictated by the Health and Safety at Work Act. One part of this responsibility is conducting risk assessments – but what exactly does that involve?
What Does a Risk Assessment Involve?
A risk assessment is, in essence, a formal reckoning of the various hazards present in a given workplace or scenario, and the risks they pose to present parties – be they employees or visitors. This often takes the form of a table, which includes the hazards or risks identified, their potential outcomes and the solutions recommended by the evaluator.
These solutions might include the provision of new and relevant protective equipment, such as appropriate footwear for inclement weather or slippery conditions; they might also involve physical changes to a premises, such as the addition of a barrier or harness point.
Crucially, though, risk assessments are about accountability. As such, a vital inclusion in any risk assessment document or form is the person or persons responsible for enacting recommended changes or actions. This way, no risk or task falls through the cracks, and the likelihood of a preventable incident is reduced. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for businesses above a given size, but even smaller businesses should consider doing them voluntarily.
But how exactly is risk identified as part of a risk assessment? A risk assessment of a physical location is best conducted in the form of a supervised tour of the location, with a designated supervisor, manager or Health and Safety Officer (HSO). During this walk-around, hazards would be visually identified according to common or pre-defined and industry-specific risks.
For example, in the knowledge that slips and trips are the most common form of injury in any workplace, attention might be paid to potential trip hazards in the form of unmarked steps or improperly stored tools and stock. In environments where work at height is necessary, an assessor might look out for dangers relating to falls or falling objects.
The Importance of Risk Assessments to Health and Safety
Risk assessments are, in many ways, the bedrock of sound health and safety policy. They are a primary route by which risks are identified at all, and form the basis of new health and safety frameworks. The recommendations of a risk assessment are realised as procedure or provision, and workplace safety improves measurably.
As indicated above, risk assessments are not just for the identification of workplace hazards; they are also for accountability. In discovering sources of risk and assigning their resolution to specific members of staff, work is ensured to be done – and failures of policy much more easily tracked to a specific instance.