What Is A Risk Assessment And Why Do You Need One? header image

18th July, 2019

What Is A Risk Assessment And Why Do You Need One?

Do you need a risk assessment? Yes. If in doubt, the answer is yes. As a general rule, you almost always need a risk assessment. At work, risk assessments are a legal requirement. Forget to do one, and you could be breaking the law, and putting peoples lives, safety and health at risk.

What is a risk assessment?

It might not be written down, but in your head, you're carrying out risk assessments all day, from the moment you wake up. Before you cross the road. When you climb some stairs. As you pour the kettle. You're risk assessing. You may not even realise it, half the time it becomes second nature.

When we talk about risk assessments at work, however, we are talking about something more formal. A risk assessment in the workplace follows 5 key steps, known as the 5 steps to risk assessment.

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. Record your significant findings
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

But, while risk assessments at work are more formal than the ones you do in your head, the principle is the same. You are asking yourself, is what am about to do, or ask others to do, safe?

A risk assessment is the process of checking the activity or task is safe to proceed with. If it is, it can go ahead. If it isn't, then it needs to be made safe (step 3 of the 5 steps above), before it can be carried out.

As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is known as risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out.

A risk assessment at work might be more official than the ones you do all the time your head. It may seem more daunting. But, don't worry, as we have just discussed, you are already an expert at assessing risk.

Did you burn your hand today pouring yourself a coffee? Hopefully not. Did you get run over this morning crossing the road? If so, save this blog post for later and get yourself to the hospital.

Did you answer no to both the above? See.. you're an expert! You have already been identifying hazards and controlling risks. This is the key to risk assessment.

risk assessment writing
Writing your risk assessment is a small part of the process

Getting it all down on paper can be a little daunting at first. However, as we recently covered in our how to write a risk assessment blog post, the writing of the risk assessment is actually only a small part of the risk assessment process. A risk assessment is much more than paperwork, it's a process.

First, you need to identify the hazards and those who could be harmed. Then, evaluate the level of risk and the precautions needed to reduce the risks.

You can also learn about all of the 5 steps to risk assessment (and how to complete them).

Why do you need a risk assessment?

Why do you need to do one of these risk assessments? If we are risk assessing all the time anyway? Isn't it just something we do, that we don't need to think about? We know when something is safe, right?

Yes, many of us have a good sense of when something is safe to do. We risk assess in our heads, and we learn from our mistakes. At work, the requirements might be a little more... legal. Every employer and self-employed person needs to assess the health and safety risks arising from their work. If you have 5 or more employees you must document your risk assessment process.

  1. Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—
    1. the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
    2. the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking […]
  2. Every self-employed person shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—
    1. the risks to his own health and safety to which he is exposed whilst he is at work; and
    2. the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking […]
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Risk Assessment

While complying with the law is one of the reasons you need a risk assessment at work, it's not the only reason. You need a risk assessment at work to:

  • Comply with the law
  • Check for hazards
  • Reduce risk
  • Stay safe
  • Avoid accidents

Yes, keeping your workforce safe and avoiding accidents is a legal requirement too. But it's also a moral responsibility and the right thing to do. If your work causes harm to yourself and others, then your business is going to hit trouble. Fines, penalties, disruption, court cases, low morale, recruitment costs, turnover of staff - all bad for business.

You need a risk assessment because it is important to check that the work you are planning is safe. It's a health and safety responsibility of employers, to make sure that their work does not harm employees or others.

danger death
What could go wrong?

Risk assessments are needed to make sure you have reduced the risks as low as reasonably practical (also known as ALARP).

Some hazards might seem obvious. But you will be amazed by how many risks come to light once you carry out a risk assessment. These could be things that, without a formal risk assessment procedure, you just stumble upon when you are doing the task. By then, it could be too late to protect yourself and others from the danger.

The saying 'failing to prepare is preparing to fail' really does apply here. Risk assessment is an important part of health and safety preparation. Fail to do one, and your health and safety measures might not be adequate. This is bad news for the health and safety of you and your team.


Need help with your risk assessments? We have a large library of risk assessment templates you can edit and use for your business activities.

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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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