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 chemicals
- Manual handling injuries
- Electrical 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.