Cover image for article how do I carry out a risk assessment

How do I carry out a risk assessment?

“How do I carry out a risk assessment? “

“Can I do it myself, or does a health and safety person need to do the risk assessment?”

“Do I really need a risk assessment?”

These are three questions that I get asked quite frequently. I’ll deal with them in reverse order:

3. Yes, you probably do need a risk assessment. But the good news is it shouldn’t be a challenging exercise, its just a matter of thinking about what you are doing and how you are going to do it safely.

2. Yes, very often you can do the risk assessment yourself. It is preferable for the people who know the work and are familiar with the tasks in hand to carry out risk assessments, rather than somebody who hasn’t got the right experience for an assessment to be suitable and sufficient. Oftentimes risk assessments are carried out by people familiar with the tasks with additional support from a health and safety professional.

1. There is a well established process for carrying out all risk assessments. The actual content of the risk assessment will change depending on the nature of the assessment what is being looked at, but the simple 5 steps to risk assessment holds in all cases. Check out the types of risk assessment you might need here.

Why do I need to carry out a risk assessment?

A simple answer to this question is because the law requires you to! The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 say that we have to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks, and reduce those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

There’s a couple of phrases in the above paragraph that we need to understand:

suitable and sufficient – this means that you need make a proper check to identify and deal with all risks, you need to consult with the people affected, you need to put controls in place to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. Remember you are only expected to identify foreseeable risks.

so far as is reasonably practicable – in the vast majority of cases, we are required by law to reduce the risk to a level that we are happy to live with, rather than to the absolute lowest level of risk that can be technically achieved. This means when deciding our risk control measures, we need to balance the overall reduction in risk against the time, cost and trouble in putting the risk control measure in place. In reality, if something is mega-expensive to do, causes a huge amount of trouble and the risk reduction after the control is put in place, we can argue that it would not be reasonably practicable to do so. I’ll explore this concept further in a future article, but for now check out the HSE page on this subject.

From a practical sense, we carry out risk assessments so that we can methodically think through a job or situation, and put things in place to keep people safe. When done correctly a risk assessment is a great planning tool, and guides your working methods and procedures. Risk assessments are carried out by everyone in their everyday life, just think about crossing the road – the green cross code is one of the first formal risk assessment that we all learnt as kids.

risk assessment table

What are the five steps to risk assessment?

Before we deep dive into carrying out a risk assessment, we first need to define what we are assessing. I like to think about this as setting the boundary’s of the assessment, specifying what the assessment covers and limiting how far the assessment goes.

The key things to understand and specifiy are:

  • the location where the work is carried out
  • the people who may be affected (workers, contractors, visitors, members of the public, etc.)
  • the equipment used
  • all different activities involved

When you have defined these things, you are ready to start on the risk assessment it itself, buy following the 5 steps to risk assessment approach

Step 1 – Identify the hazardsA hazard is anything that has potential to cause harm. At this stage you don’t rule anything out, you need to consider all hazards no matter how unlikely you think that hazard may cause harm.

Have a look at the physical layout of the work area, the tools, equipment and substances involved, and how routine and non-routine tasks are carried out. Ask the people involved in the work, they are best place to help you identify the hazards.
Step 2 – Identify who might be harmed and howYou need to include anyone who may be affected by the work activities in these considerations, not just your workers. We need to think about how members of the public, contractors or visitors can be harmed.

We also need to think about special classes of people who may need some additional risk control measures. People like new and expectant mothers, young persons and people with underlying / ongoing health conditions who may be at particular risk.

At this stage you can do an initial estimation of the risk levels with the existing controls in place for each of the hazards you identified in step 1.
Step 3 – Evaluate the riskLooking at the risk estimates from step 2, you need to decide which risks are currently acceptable and which ones you need to take steps to reduce the level of risk to people.

When deciding which additional risk control measures, you need to work through the hierarchy of risk controls to see which measures you can use to reduce the level of risk, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Step 4 – Record your findingsYou are required to record the significant findings of your risk assessment.

The significant findings will not include trivial risks, but will include the hazards you have identified, how people might be harmed, and the risk control measures in place to prevent harm.

Remember the purpose of the risk assessment is to guide people in keeping the workplace as safe as possible, so the risk assessment needs to be clear and concise, accessible to those who may need it, and easy to understand.

If you have fewer than five employees in your organisation you do not need to record your findings, but it is very useful to do so.
Step 5 – Review the risk assessmentFor the risk assessments to remain relevant, we need to review them periodically. You must always review your risk assessment if anything you have based your assessment on changes – for example if you have new equipment, changed working methods, after an accident or incident, or if new learning comes to light that influences the decisions made when carrying out the original assessment.

If you have no other reason to review your assessment, you must do so periodically to make sure you capture any changes that may have been missed. In most cases it is up to the assessor to determine the intervals between periodic reviews.

We’ve done the risk assessment – what next?

Carrying out a risk assessment is not the end of the process. For the assessment to have value it needs to be communicated to everyone who is affected by it, and the controls identified incorporated into every-day working practices.

Remember the goal of a risk assessment isn’t to have a box ticked, or a nice document filed away somewhere – it is to make sure we can work safely, and reduce the risk of people getting harmed at work to a level that we are happy to tolerate.

Want to talk more about risk assessments and how you can protect your people from harm?

Related Articles

  1. What are RAMS?
  2. The burning facts about fire risk assessments
  3. Managing health and safety for small businesses

What are RAMS?

What are RAMS in the world of Health and Safety?

If we were in the land of Clarkson’s Farm (anyone watched it? I love Wayne Rooney and Leonardo DiCaprio) then we would know that RAMS look like this:

Ram to illustrate the article What are RAMS?

When talking health and safety, RAMS stands for Risk Assessments and Method Statements.

Risk assessments and method statements are two separate process that, when used together, form a basis for your safe systems of work. They are used together widely when managing health and safety, particularly in high hazard industries like Construction.

But even if you don’t work in construction, you have more than likely used RAMS – just ask the Green Cross Code Man.

So, what are risk assessments and method statements?

What is a Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment, simply put, is a methodical way of identifying what might go wrong when carrying out a task or activity. We use them to foresee how people might get hurt and what we can do to protect them and keep them safe from harm.

We are required by law to carry out risk assessments for our activities, and if our business has 5 or more employees then it is a legal requirement to make a record of your risk assessments. These requirements are set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

There are many different types of risk assessment covering a huge range of work activities, tasks and situations. The basic method for carrying out these risk assessments always stay the same. The five steps to risk assessment are:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Estimate the risk by understanding who might be harmed, the likelihood of harm and the potential consequences
  3. Evaluate the risk and, where needed, put additional controls in place to reduce the risk to an acceptable level
  4. Record the significant findings of the assessment
  5. Review your assessment periodically or if anything the risk assessment is based on changes.

What are Method Statements?

Method Statements are typically used in high hazard industries (e.g. Construction) and gives us the step-by-step instructions for completing a job safely. There is no legal requirement to provide method statements, but they can play a significant role in ensuring we provide a safe system of work.

A method statement is usually accompanied by the risk assessment for the task or activity it covers. The risk assessment tells you what the risks are and the controls to be used to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. The method statement gives you instructions on how to carry out the work, with each step set out sequentially detailing exactly what needs to be done. The method statement will refer to the risk assessment and will include the steps needed to make sure the controls detailed in the risk assessment are put in place.

Method statements usually contain the following details:

  • Project details – including key contact information for people in control of the works
  • Description of the specific work the method statement covers
  • Date and duration of work
  • Step-by-step instructions for carrying out the works
  • PPE requirements
  • Management arrangements
  • Monitoring requirements
  • First aid provision
  • Welfare provision
  • Emergency procedures

Method statements are much more detailed than risk assessments; where a risk assessment tells us what we need to work safely a method statement will tell us how to do it.

What does this have to do with the Green Cross Code Man?

We all have experience of working with RAMS, even if you don’t realise it. One of the first forms of risk assessments and method statements we learn as a kid is the Green Cross Code. We learn the systematic way to identify the hazards (moving vehicles), assess the risks (is the vehicle speeding towards us) and put controls in place to reduce the risk (find a safe space to cross). We also learn the step-by-step method statement that we need to cross the road. We are taught to Think, Stop, Look and listen, Wait, Look and listen again, arrive alive.

Picture of the Green Cross Code Man to illustrate the article What are RAMS?

When we are young and learning the green cross code, we get taught to break the complicated, risky and scary task down into an easy to follow step-by-step process. That what RAMS do for us in the workplace, they take high hazard, complicated, risky jobs and break them down in to simple to follow steps with all the things we need to do to stay safe set out and integrated into the job.

So, the next time you are asked ‘What are RAMS?’ you’ll be able to point people in the direction of the green cross code!

Do you need any help in preparing your RAMS?

Related Posts

  1. Managing Health and Safety for small businesses
  2. Homeworker risk assessment – looking after your homeworkers health and safety
  3. Burning facts about Fire Risk Assessment
workers in an office

Covid-19 and workers returning to the workplace

After the last few months of lockdown, many employers are now considering the impact of Covid-19 and workers returning to the workplace.

From the 1st of August 2020 the blanket edict of ‘those that can work from home should work from home’ has been replaced by guidance that shifts the onus onto employers to decide whether it is right to bring people back into the workplace, or for them to carry on working from home.

Read More