The Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulation’s 1999 require all employers and self-employed persons to assess the risks to workers and any others who may be affected by their undertaking.

Many employers already carry out what might be considered to be risk assessments on a day-to-day basis during the course of their work – they will note changes in working practices, recognise faults as they develop and take necessary corrective actions. Regulation 3 of MHSW however requires that employers should undertake a systematic general examination of their work activity and record any significant findings of that risk assessment. Risk assessment also fits into a four part process for risk control, through the setting of performance standards, as follows:

  1. Hazard identification.
  2. Risk assessment.
  3. Risk control – the selection of suitable measures to eliminate or control risks.
  4. Implementing and maintaining control measures.

Hazard: Something with the potential to cause harm
Risk: The likelihood that the harm from a particular hazard is realised

Risk assessment in practice

There are no fixed rules about how a risk assessment should be carried out; it will depend on the nature of the undertaking and the type and extent of the hazards and risks. The process should be practical, participative and systematic and cover risks which are reasonably foreseeable. For small undertakings with few or simple hazards a suitable and sufficient risk assessment can be a straightforward process based on personal judgement, experience and knowledge.

  1. Ensure that all relevant hazards and risks are addressed, with the aim of identifying significant risks in the workplace.

• Identify the hazards (by observation, using sources of information such as legislation or published guidance, trade publication’s, accident or ill-health records, manufacturers’ or suppliers’ information)
• Assess the risks (including residual risks) from the identified hazards
• Ensure all aspects of the work activity are reviewed

2. Address what actually happens in the workplace, including non-routine operations

3. Ensure that all groups of employees and others who might be affected are considered

4. Identify groups of workers who might be particularly at risk

5. Take account of existing preventative or precautionary measures

The level of detail should be broadly proportionate to the risk. In some cases, employers may make a first rough assessment, to eliminate from consideration those risks on which no further action need be taken, before conducting fuller assessments.

Employers controlling a number of similar workplaces may produce a basic ‘model’ risk assessment reflecting core hazards and risks. This may then be applied at each workplace but only if broadly appropriate to the type of work and if it can be adapted to particular work situations.

Recording the assessment

Employers with five or more employees must record the significant findings of their risk assessment. It needs to be part of an employer’s overall approach to health and safety and where appropriate should be linked to other relevant health and safety documents (e.g. policy statement). This record would normally be in writing but can also be recorded electronically as long as it is retrievable. Various written formats have, and can, be used; employers should select or develop a format appropriate to their needs. Assessments need to be suitable and sufficient, not perfect. Leaflet IND(G)163L ‘5 steps to risk assessment’ includes a pro-forma risk assessment sheet aimed at firms in the commercial, service and light industrial sectors.

Preventive and protective measures

In deciding upon the preventive and protective measures, the following principles should be applied:-

  1. It is always best if possible to avoid a risk altogether.
  2. Combat risks at source.
  3. Wherever possible, adapt work to the individual.
  4. Take advantage of technological and technical progress.
  5. They should form part of a coherent policy and approach.
  6. Give a priority to those measures which protect the whole workplace.
  7. Workers need to be involved, and understand what they need to do.
  8. The development of a ‘safety culture’ with the organisation.