19th May, 2022

Risk Assessing Who Might Be Harmed And How

Step 2 of the five steps to risk assessment involves assessing who might be harmed and how. This step allows you to look at which groups of people may be affected by the activity, and how they might be harmed. Once you know how people can be harmed, you can decide what controls might be needed.

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Risk assessment shouldn't just be about box-ticking or simply identifying a checklist of hazards. Yes, hazard identification is an important part of risk assessment. It's step 1 of the HSE's 5 steps to risk assessment.

But there are 5 steps. So if you're only checking for hazards, then your risk assessment isn't complete.

Not sure what the other steps are? Find out with What Are The 5 Steps To Risk Assessment?

Step 2 involves assessing who might be harmed and how. And that's what we will look at in this blog post.

Why do I need to check who is at risk?

Well, the first reason is that risk assessment is a legal requirement. And the law is a pretty strong reason to do something!

But also, you can't protect people until you know who you need to protect. By considering who might be harmed, you can think about the things you need to do to keep them safe.

Can't I just protect everyone?

Surely you need to protect everyone from harm so regardless of who might be harmed you need to put the same control measures in place?

Not necessarily. Different people may be harmed by your activity in different ways. Some people may not be aware of the hazards or may have special requirements that need additional attention.

Assessing who might be harmed (and how) gives you the opportunity to look at how different people may be affected by the activity.

Who might be harmed?

This doesn't require you to list everyone by name. You can group people by type like:

Could workers be harmed?

The first group likely to be at risk of harm will be those carrying out the task or activity - the operatives themselves. They have direct contact with the task, the equipment and the materials. So they are likely to be most at risk.

You should then consider adjacent workers. Not necessarily the people performing the task, but those working close by. If they are within or next to the working area, they may also be at risk.

worker using a breaker

These workers may need additional instruction and training, as they may not have had the same instruction and training as the operative, and therefore not familiar with the hazards. You should, therefore, consider making those workers aware of the risks and controls as well as part of your inductions.

Safety meetings, additional induction instructions, toolbox talks, and improved safety communication and consultation procedures on your site can help raise awareness of workplace hazards among all employees - including those risks outside of their direct operations, but that may affect them.

There may also be workers with special requirements. Vulnerable workers such as young or inexperienced workers, new or expectant mothers, foreign workers and disabled workers may be at an increased risk and therefore need additional precautions to be in place to make the workplace safe for them.

Could others be harmed?

So we have considered workers, and also adjacent workers or others within the work area. Who else might be affected by the activity?

Are you working on an empty site, or within an occupied building? Are you working in a secure area or do other people have access?

Visitors and members of the public may also be affected by the works. What's more, they might have no idea what work you are doing, they may have little to no knowledge of the hazards, and they certainly won't have been inducted!

Protecting this group of people should be as passive as possible. In other words, you shouldn't expect them to take action to protect themselves. You need to make sure they are safe from harm on their behalf.

Remember, additional consideration must be given as this group of people are likely to be unaware of the hazards and your business operations, and are outside of induction or training procedures.

Control measures to prevent access or exposure to hazardous work are therefore required, particularly for members of the public who won't be wearing PPE or have other user controls.

Take a look at the 5 Best Risk Assessment Control Measures.

Warning signs, barriers and controlling hazards at the source can help minimise risks to those outside your control who may be affected by your work.

How might people be harmed?

Ok, so you have looked at who might be harmed. Now you need to consider how these groups might be harmed.

This is an important part of your risk assessment process because how they might be harmed will help you establish the type and level of protection needed.

Considering how the group might be harmed is important when establishing if your existing controls are adequate. All too often control measures in place only protect the operative, and fail to address the risks that other groups are exposed to.

An example of the above can be seen with joinery work on construction sites. Often, those sanding or sawing wood with portable equipment will be wearing dust masks to be protected from dust exposure.

wood dust

Other trades working close by may not be, yet are just as much at risk from the dusty atmosphere.

The risk assessment might have failed to look at the risk to those working within the area. Even if it does, these other workers might not be inducted on the risks of nearby activities.

How can I protect people?

Now you know who might be harmed (and how), you can think about how to keep them safe.

This is the next step to your risk assessment (step 3 - evaluate the risks and decide on precautions).

Following the joinery example above, you may need to raise awareness and training beyond the operatives completing the activity.

Or, you might think of a better collective protective measure that protects everyone, rather than relying on PPE that just protects the individual.


Write your risk assessment in minutes with one of our ready to use risk assessment templates. You can start with the free blank risk assessment template.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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