The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to put in place arrangements to control health and safety risks. As a minimum, you should have the processes and procedures required to meet the legal requirements, including:
- Assessments of the risks to employees, contractors, customers, partners, and any other people who could be affected by your activities – and record the significant findings in writing (if you employ five or more people) and any risk assessment must be ‘suitable and sufficient’.
What does ‘suitable and sufficient’ mean?
If you look at the HSE definition it means:
- a proper check was made
- you asked who might be affected
- you dealt with all the obvious significant risks, taking into account the number of people who could be involved
- the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low
- you involved your workers or their representatives in the process
The level of detail in a risk assessment should be proportionate to the risk and appropriate to the nature of the work. Insignificant risks can usually be ignored, as can risks arising from routine activities associated with life in general, unless the work activity compounds or significantly alters those risks.
Your risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.
What does this mean for you in practice?
Look for the hazards – walkaround your workplace and see what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Ignore the trivial and concentrate on significant hazards, those that could result in serious harm or affect several people.
- Observe the physical layout of the work area in which the activities are being carried out.
- Consider all of the activities being carried out, both routine and non-routine operations.
- Look at permanent and temporary pieces of equipment, substances and processes used in the workplace.
- Ask your employees what they think, they may have noticed something that is not obvious to you.
Decide who might be harmed – don’t forget:
- Young workers, trainees, new and expectant mothers etc. who may be at particular risk.
- Cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, etc. who may not be the workplace all of the time.
- Members of the public, or people you share the workplace with, is there a chance they could be harmed by your work activities.
Evaluate the risks and decide whether your existing control measures are adequate or more control measures are necessary – consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not you need to do more to reduce the risk. Even after all precautions have been taken some risk usually remains. Ask yourself “I have I done all that is reasonably practicable to keep my work place safe?”
Record your findings – if you have fewer than five employees you don’t need to write anything down, though it is useful to keep a written record of what you have done. If you have five or more employees, it is a legal requirement to record the significant findings of your assessment. You must also communicate your findings to your employees.
Review your assessment – sooner or later you will bring in new machines, equipment, substances etc. which could result in new hazards. Therefore, it makes sense to review what you are doing on a regular basis, ask yourself:
- Have there been any significant changes?
- Are there improvements you still need to make?
- Have your employees spotted a problem?
- Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?
Remember: Your risk assessment should always be kept up to date and readily available, along with any supporting documentation.