Health and safety legislation can often appear quite complex. There are hundreds of different regulations that companies must comply with and there are thousands of guidance documents from various Government advisory bodies. However, even with all this information about health and safety at work, there is one basic and fundamental thing that all employers must do – risk assessment.
Risk assessment is the process whereby each job that is done at work is carefully analysed for its level of risk. This statement is not quite correct, because the law doesn’t actually require a risk assessment for all jobs. Instead, employers must carry out a risk assessment of jobs that present a significant risk to health and safety.
Those jobs that present significant risk must be carefully analysed to ensure that hazards associated with the job are identified and the risk from those hazards are assessed. Once the level of risk is known, control measures can be put in place to reduce the level of risk. The lower the risk that a job presents, the less chance of an accident occurring from that job.
So, what is a hazard?The standard definition of a hazard is, ‘something with the potential to cause harm to a person’.
There are many hazards around, which may cause harm to a person. Fire, chemicals, handling heavy loads, slips and trips and noise are some examples.
The definition of risk is, ‘the likelihood and consequence of a hazard being realised’.
Hazards present risk, but not all hazards present the same amount of risk. For example, take fire as a hazard. If we go on holiday and stay in a five star hotel that is managed by a large international chain with an excellent safety record, the risk from fire (the hazard) will be very small. However, if we decide to move to a back-street hotel that has no fire precautions in place, with perhaps a poor safety record, then the risk from fire is much greater.
Hopefully this example illustrates that hazards are fixed but risk is variable.
These are things that can be put in place to reduce the risk from a hazard. Continuing the theme of fire as a hazard, we can reduce the risk from fire by having fire detectors in place, by training people in evacuation and by providing properly maintained fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment.
A Worked Example
Let’s take an example and work through a risk assessment. Let’s consider cleaning an office as the job. The first part of the risk assessment process is to list all the hazards associated with the job. Remember, hazards are things that have the potential to cause harm.
Hazards associated with cleaning an office could be:
Slips and trips
Contact with cleaning chemicalsManual handling injuriesElectrical hazard from cleaning equipment
Now then, we have to work out the risk from each of those hazards. Often, a simple way of working out risk is by looking at the worst possible accident that could occur from that hazard and then categorise it as either low, medium or high.
For example, someone slipping on a wet floor is unlikely to result in a major injury, although it may cause minor discomfort. But an electric shock from faulty equipment may result in a fatality. Therefore, the risk from a slip type hazard could be classed as low, while the risk from an electrical hazard may be classed as medium or even high.
The final part of the risk assessment process is to look at all those hazards that present a medium or high risk and to think about some additional things that could help to reduce the risk and therefore reduce the chance of an accident. Perhaps a control measure for our cleaning example would be for any electrical equipment to be checked by a qualified person on a six monthly basis. This would reduce the chances of an electric shock and would therefore reduce the risk to a more acceptable level.
The process of risk assessment is not only mandatory in terms of health and safety law, it is an excellent way of identifying the type of risk that exists with the jobs that we do at work. By taking a few moments to identify risk, we can prevent people getting injured or killed at work.
I work in catering and when closing the shift, I am expected to fill with water several basins
(that during the day keep the trays with food hot). I realized that the total of the water to be
carried can reach 100kg, and as a woman, I am supposed to do this by all myself, taking water from oneof the sinks inside the open kitchen, carrying it a few meters inside the store and then
handling it- pouring it inside the basins. When I ask somebody else inside the open kitchen to
handle me the filled pots with water over the till (in order not to carry it inside the store,
among the customers), I am always refused. The task ownership, with its torturing load, is thrown
usually to the most unaware in the team while all the rest simulate is no big deal but run away
like from the plague. The load, carried and lifted afterwards, in order to be poured in the basins
(that are at the hips level, with not enough space over, under a shelf, to allow handling the water
properly), is damaging for my knees and ankles, my body doesn't tolerate it, I cannot all without
pain for the next day or two, after dong this procedure, and one of my ankles have an ongoing
inflammation because of this. There's no trolley (though I think it should be, if anyone took any
care of the employees, thing they claim loudly), neither other fix. The contract states that it is
expected from me to bend and lift loads, acceptable for the requirements of the position,
unassisted, but it does not state that I should do the closing all by myself (especially, that
everyone is "equal" formally in the team). Please, kindly, what you advice me to do? Thank you very much!
Irene - 19-Mar-17 @ 10:12 AM
sazkaz - Your Question:
The lock on the kitchen door at work was broken. I was advised to use another door when I finished my shift. I did not realise there was a high step outside this door that led to the concrete path. It was also dark. I fell and fractured a bone in my foot. I am now off sick for the past 8 weeks. Am I entitled to any compensation? Thanks
You'd have to speak to a injury claims solicitor regarding this.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 20-Feb-17 @ 10:10 AM
The lock on the kitchen door at work was broken. I was advised to use another door when I finished my shift. I did not realise there was a high step outside this door that led to the concrete path. It was also dark. I fell and fractured a bone in my foot. I am now off sick for the past 8 weeks. Am I entitled to any compensation?
sazkaz - 19-Feb-17 @ 5:24 AM
In a retail shop on delivery day we are expected to slide heavy totes of stock down the stairs. Is this acceptable from a health and safety point of veiw?
Jvan - 30-Jun-16 @ 5:58 PM
cris - Your Question:
My company wants to introduce a backpack vacuum cleaner and most of us are women ,the weight of the machine is 7.3kg when is empty and about 8.2-8.5 kg when is full ,it is a train company and the task involves hovering inside coachesBecause we already tried everybody consider is too heavy special for women and more problems as back injuries etc can occurred using in a daily basisPlease I would like to know how many kilos we are allowed to put on our back?
Backpack vacuums are designed for both commercial and residential use. Plus, the carrying system for most are designed to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed across the entire body, in order to prevent back problems due to frequent, or consistent use. Your employer should have carried out a risk assesment. However, if you are concerned about this, and if you are based in the UK you can contact the HSE directly, via the link here to see what the health and safety standards are. Alternatively, if all the staff are in agreement, then you should take this up with your employer directly, or via your trade union rep, to voice your concerns.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 8-Oct-15 @ 11:07 AM
my company wants to introduce a backpack vacuum cleaner and most of us are women ,the weight of the machine is 7.3kg when is empty and about 8.2-8.5 kg when is full ,it is a train company and the task involves hovering inside coaches
Because we already tried everybody consider is too heavy special for women and more problems as back injuries etc can occurred using in a daily basis
Please I would like to know how many kilos we are allowed to put on our back?