5 Essential steps to carrying out any Risk Assessment

Perhaps you combine health and safety with other responsibilities, are new to health and safety or are just completely confused when it comes to risk assessment? Whatever your background, here is our plain-English guide to the basics. It should clarify the essentials, cut through the jargon and give you a tried-and-tested method for carrying out any risk assessment, general or specific.

There are risk assessment guides that mention three, five, six and seven steps; but in the UK, the most common approach is based on five. Here we set out their essentials.

Step 1.

Identify the Hazards Here, ‘hazards’ mean anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Hazards could threaten safety (e.g. falls) or health (e.g. inhaling dust) or both (e.g. corrosive chemicals) and they can be immediate (electric shock) or long-term (noise-induced hearing loss) or both (back injury).

Step 2.

Decide Who Is at Risk and How Assessments should identify anyone who is risk, whether or not they are an employee. Consider in particular workers, contractors, visitors and members of the public. In healthcare, consider clients, patients and service users. In education, consider pupils and students as well as staff.

‘How’ is a very important part of this stage: understanding what could go wrong helps you both evaluate the risk and also identify possible ways of minimising it. Pay special attention to vulnerable people e.g. those who are inexperienced.

Step 3.

Rate the Risk Start by considering the harm scenarios from Step 2 above and, for each, decide:

  • How likely they are and
  • How serious would the outcome be, were they to happen

Then look at what control measures (safeguards or precautions) you already have in place to manage the risk. Are they working effectively or could they be improved? Are they sufficient or do you need to do more? Don’t rush this step as answering these questions is the crux of the whole risk assessment. Your judgment on what precautions are needed is actually the assessment’s single most important output.

Step 4.

Record the Assessment and Implement Any Recommendations Most risk assessment regulations contain a wording requiring employers to record their risk assessment findings – unless they are a small organisation with fewer than five employees.

Just as important is to put in hand any action your assessment has shown to be necessary.

Step 5.

Review the Assessment This is the moment to step back and reflect on the assessment process: has anything been missed out? Is there anything you have learned that would make the next assessment easier? ‘Review’ is also a legal requirement whose aim is ensure that your assessment remains up to date.

For example, if your operations change, the risk will almost certainly change too (either up or down); your assessment will need to be updated to reflect this. Changes in rules and standards should also prompt a review, as should accidents/incidents: these often reveal hazards, harm scenarios and ineffective control measures that the original assessor(s) missed.

Download a Risk Assessment Template