Employers are required by law to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. Risk assessments are just a small part of this process to create a safe working environment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describes risk assessments as a ‘step-by-step process for controlling Health & Safety risks caused by hazards in the workplace’.
Risk assessments identify potential health and safety hazards to employees and contractors/visitors. They analyse and evaluate associated risks and determine steps to eliminate or control the hazard.
In this article we discuss the importance of having robust risk assessments in place and explore risks which are less commonly known.
Why are risk assessments so important?
Risk assessments are a legal requirement which save lives. They reduce the likelihood of work-related accidents and ill-health arising from wet floors, dangerous work equipment, fire hazards or exposure to hazardous substances, as well as other less common workplace risks such as noise and stress.
Risk Assessments require you to identify the hazards, assess the risks, control the risks, record your findings and review the controls. It is important that risk assessments are shared with employees.
What are the consequences of inadequate / no risk assessments?
Organisations who do not have robust, up-to-date and communicated risk assessments are putting the safety of their employees at risk, as well as risking financial and reputational damage. Severe illness, injury and even death are some of the most catastrophic consequences of inadequate risk assessments. Fatalities usually occur where organisations have failed to complete them, act on them or failed to share them with those they affect.
Companies with five or more employees are legally obliged to keep a written record of their risk assessments which must be regularly reviewed and updated. Failure to comply could result in enforcement notices, heavy fines, prosecution and even imprisonment.
Types of workplace risks
Slips, trips and falls are one of the most common causes of accidents in the workplace accounting for 33% of non-fatal injuries. Other, more common risk assessments may include the following:
- Manual Handling – Assesses the risk of injury or ill-health resulting from handling, lifting or carrying heavy objects.
- DSE – Assesses the risks to those who work at employer workstations and use display screen equipment such as computers or laptops, daily for continuous periods of an hour or more.
- Machine Specific – Assesses the risk of injury or ill-health from working with a machine or piece of equipment.
- Work at Height – Assesses the risks to prevent death or injury caused by a fall from height.
There are other types of assessment which have a different format to the above, these include:
- COSHH Assessments (Hazardous Substances) – Concentrates on the hazards and risks for those who handle, store, use or manufacture hazardous substances.
- Fire Risk Assessments – Ensures adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place to minimise the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire.
However, it is important to remember that risk assessments are not just associated with the safety issues above. Employers should also be mindful of other, less common risks which are sometimes overlooked, including:
- Vulnerable Workers – This group includes new or expectant mothers, young workers, people with a disability or migrant workers who may who lack the capacity or means to protect their workplace entitlements and are therefore more at risk than other employees.
- Lone Workers – A lone worker risk assessment must be carried out for all employees working on their own or without close supervision. It identifies what needs to be done to control the health and safety risks of lone workers such as delivery drivers, health workers, security staff or people working from home etc.
- Stress – The rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety has shown signs of increasing since the pandemic. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by completing a risk assessment to identify factors which could cause employees to suffer from work-related stress, and implementing control measures to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
- Noise – A noise risk assessment identifies those who are likely to be affected by exposure and determines noise-control measures or hearing protection requirement. This is more than just taking noise measurements as it also helps identify sources of noise risk and how it affects employees.
Risk assessments should be used to identify any need for health surveillance.
Health surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks which are legally required for employees exposed to noise/vibration, radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts, metal working fluids, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health, or those who work with compressed air.
Health surveillance enables employees to raise concerns about how work affects their health. It also detects early signs of work-related ill-health and identifies where more needs to be done to control any risks. A respiratory health surveillance programme for instance, could include a regular, periodic assessment and/or lung function testing.
If you need support identifying risks and hazards in your workplace, please contact our qualified Health, Safety & Wellbeing Consultant Joanne Howley on 01942 727200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for an initial consultation without charge or obligation.