Risk Assessment - A Brief Guide to Controlling Risks in the Workplace

This leaflet is designed for those responsible for health and safety measures. It will be useful for employers, employees, managers and safety representatives.


As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is known as risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out.

Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of your risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in your workplace. A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and think about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health?

Here are some tips to help you identify the hazards that need to be checked:

  • Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in explaining the hazards and putting them in their true perspective.
  • Look back at your accident and ill-health records – these often help to identify the less obvious hazards.
  • Take account of non-routine operations (eg maintenance, cleaning operations or changes in production cycles).
  • Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (eg high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances).
  • Visit the HSE website (www.hse.gov.uk) – HSE publishes practical guidance on hazards and how to control them.

Who might be harmed?

It is essential you think how employees (or others who may be present, such as contractors or visitors) might be harmed. It is important to ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.

For each hazard you need to be clear about who might be harmed – it will help you identify the best way of controlling the risk. That doesn’t mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people (eg people working in the storeroom or passers-by). Remember:

  • Some workers may have particular requirements, eg new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors, homeworkers and lone workers (www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers).
  • Think about people who might not be in the workplace all the time, such as visitors, contractors and maintenance workers.
  • Take members of the public into account if they could be harmed by your work activities.
  • If you share a workplace with another business, consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you and your workers. Talk to each other and make sure controls are in place.
  • Ask your workers if there is anyone you may have missed.

Evaluate the risks

Having identified the hazards, you then have to decide how likely it is that harm will occur, ie the level of risk and what to do about it.

Your risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

Look at what you’re already doing and the control measures you already have in place. Ask yourself:

  • Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
  • If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

Some practical steps you could take include:

  • trying a less risky option;
  • preventing access to the hazards;
  • organising your work to reduce exposure to the hazard;
  • issuing protective equipment;
  • providing welfare facilities such as first aid and washing facilities;
  • involving and consulting with workers.

You may also come across model assessments developed by trade associations, employers’ bodies or other organisations concerned with a particular activity. You may decide to apply these model assessments at each workplace, but you can only do so if you:

  • satisfy yourself that the model assessment is appropriate to your type of work;
  • adapt the model to the detail of your own work situations, including any extension necessary to cover hazards and risks not referred to in the model.

Record your significant findings

Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down.

Any paperwork you produce should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.

A risk assessment must be suitable and sufficient, ie it should show that: a

  • a proper check was made;
  • you asked who might be affected;
  • you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved;
  • the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low;
  • you involved your employees or their representatives in the process.

Where the nature of your work changes fairly frequently or the workplace changes and develops (eg a construction site), or where your workers move from site to site, your risk assessment may have to concentrate more on a broad range of risks that can be anticipated.

Take a look at the selection of example risk assessments on HSE’s website (www.hse.gov.uk/risk). They show you what a completed risk assessment might look like for your type of workplace. You can use these as a guide when doing your own.

If your risk assessment identifies a number of hazards, you need to put them in order of importance and address the most serious risks first. Remember, the greater the hazard the more robust and reliable the measures to control the risk of an injury occurring will need to be.

Regularly review your risk assessment

Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. So it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis, look at your risk assessment again and ask yourself:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there improvements you still need to make? Have your workers spotted a problem?
  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.



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Lauren King

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