By this point in time, most employers, even small ones, are probably aware of their obligation to undertake risk assessments to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of their employees.
It may, however, come as something of a surprise that they are also obligated to assess risks to “persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking…”. As soon as an employer has more than five employees, they must create a written record of “(a) the significant findings of the assessment; and (b) any group of his employees identified by it as being especially at risk.”.
Although the law states what must be done, it does not state how it must be done. With this in mind, here is a quick guide as to how to undertake an effective (and legal) risk assessment.
Identify the Hazards
A hazard is basically anything which could potentially cause a problem. What this will look like in practical terms will depend on your work environment. Some environments, such as construction, are clearly more hazardous than others, but even purportedly safe environments such as offices can have a surprising number of hazards, especially when you include mental-health risks such as stress.
As a side note, now could be a good time to identify any hazards which could impact anyone and see you can take action to mitigate them. Even if they are outside of the scope of your responsibilities as an employer, there may still be other ways in which you could be held accountable for them, for example, being sued by a member of the public.
Identify the People at Risk
A hazard is a hazard regardless of how many people it could impact, but the severity of the hazard may be influenced by the number of people who could be impacted. Also, knowing who could be impacted by a hazard could be a key factor in deciding how to mitigate it.
For example, you may determine that it is impossible (or at least highly impractical) to remove a hazard from an area but that you could mitigate its impact by providing protective equipment and training in how to use it in which case you would need to know who would need access to the equipment and who would require training on how to use it.
Identify How Hazards Can Be Mitigated
In many cases, once you have identified what a hazard is and who could be impacted by it, the mitigation action is fairly obvious. Where it is not, then you need to seek advice from a relevant specialist. Lack of resources is not an excuse for putting people at risk. If you cannot determine how to do something safely, then you should not be doing it at all. In fact, not doing it may be your solution. You could potentially contract-out the activity elsewhere.
Keeping Your Risk Assessment up to Date
Risk assessments are not “set-and-forget” documents. They should be reviewed on a regular basis and it’s strongly recommended to diarize time to make this happen.
P.S. Many thanks to Peter Watson, Director at Watson & Watson Health and Safety Consultants, for providing this valuable material. Watson & Watson are experienced health and safety consultants, providing health, safety and risk management solutions throughout the UK.