If you are an employer or are self-employed, it is a legal requirement that risk assessments are completed under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The regulations require you to take ‘reasonable precautions’ against any and all risks your company faces.
Risk assessments should be completed prior to any work being done and again if anything changes, such as modified or new machines or processes. It should also be reviewed regularly.
When completing a risk assessment, you need to consider What, Who, How & When:
- What can cause harm?
- Who would be affected?
- How can harm be prevented?
- When should I review this next?
You should then ensure all risk assessments are recorded and kept for reference, and make sure your staff know about them and are trained accordingly – the HSE provides templates for doing this – see them here.
There are no requirements on how often you should review your risk assessments (assuming nothing changes) but we would recommend updating them at least annually to ensure they are relevant at all times and to prevent any issues arising.
Here are some examples of what risk assessments should include:
- Fire Hazards
- Lifting Risks
- Use of Machinery
- Visitors on the premises
- Falling Hazards
- Tripping Hazards
- Noise Risks (see also our article on Noise Induced Hearing Loss)
When considering who would be affected, you should always base the risk assessment on the least experience/most vulnerable person that you can think would be affected. This gives you a worst case scenario and will mean that you are overestimating your risks rather than underestimating it.
Finally, preventing harm does not mean you have to take complicated and expensive precautions. You could:
- Ensure all employees are fully trained in safe use of machinery and regularly undergo ‘refresh’ training
- Make it company policy to not allow visitors in any areas with machinery
- Put guards on machines
- Issue Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
We would note that when it comes to guards on machines and similar measures, it is not enough just to have these. If an employee can prove that they regularly worked on a machine with the guard removed and were never challenged about it, they could still win a case against you if they are injured. You should ensure employees are fully briefed on safety measures and we would always recommend that employees are given training in areas that involve their work, and are given copies of risk assessments and sign to confirm they have received these and any relevant training – If it’s not written down, it’s almost impossible to prove it happened!
You should also train all of your managers that if they see an employee working without a guard on a machine or the correct PPE or working not in accordance with your health and safety policy, they should stop them from working immediately and tell them to use the safety equipment. If the employee then refuses to do so, they should not be allowed to work on that equipment and disciplinary procedures may need to be followed.
Not only are risk assessments a legal requirement, but insurance companies will look for confirmation that these have been undertaken, and the HSE will most certainly look for evidence of risk assessments if they are involved in an investigation following an accident at work. Failure to do them can prove to be very costly indeed.
If you are unsure of whether something requires a risk assessment or not, you can check out the HSE website or even speak to your insurance broker or your health and safety consultants and they may be able to give you some advice, but please, don’t ignore them!