26th January, 2023

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

In health and safety, a risk assessment is a process of evaluating the potential risks involved in an activity and deciding how to control them. At work, risk assessments are a legal requirement. Forget to do one, and you could be breaking the law and putting people's lives, safety, and health, at risk.

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

Risk assessments are a fundamental health and safety document that every business needs. At work, risk assessments are a legal requirement. Forget to do one, and you could be breaking the law - and putting people's lives, safety and health at risk.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is the process of identifying what could harm people in your business, and deciding what action is needed to reduce the risk.

Unsure about hazard vs risk? Find out in the difference between hazard and risk explained.

There are a few different types of risk assessment, but they all do the same thing - identify hazards and control risks to people.

A risk assessment isn't always a written document. 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 may not even realise it, but you have been risk assessing your whole life. It has become second nature.

Risk assessments at work are slightly more formal, but the concept is the same. You are asking yourself, is what I am about to do, or ask others to do, safe?

Many risk assessments will contain a risk matrix or another way to measure risk.

5x5 risk matrix

The legal requirement for carrying out a risk assessment comes from section 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations:

  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

A risk assessment at work might be more official than the ones you do all the time in 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 to the hospital.

Did you answer no to both of the above? You're an expert! You have already been identifying hazards and controlling risks. And that's what risk assessment is all about.

What does a risk assessment include?

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 risk assessment and update it if necessary

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

When you do a risk assessment, you are checking if it is safe to go ahead with the activity. If it is safe, the task can go ahead. If it isn't, then it needs to be made safe before you start.

stop sign

Getting it all down on paper can be a little daunting at first, but with some careful planning, you can write a risk assessment in as little as 5 minutes.

Speed things up and get started with our free risk assessment template.

However, as we recently covered in our how to write a risk assessment blog post, the writing of the risk assessment is 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.

When is a risk assessment necessary?

Risk assessment is necessary for every employer and every self-employed person. Any business, no matter the size, faces health and safety risks.

You must document your risk assessment process if you have 5 or more employees. But any business (even single-person businesses) might need written risk assessments.

passing a document

If you work in a high-risk industry, like construction, you'll probably find risk assessments are necessary to get onto a site, or gain health and safety accreditation.

If you work in the public sector you will often find clients require a copy of risk assessment before they will award contractors.

And if you do work with other people, risk assessments are a good way of communicating with your team about how to do a task safely.

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.

danger sign

What are risk assessments used for?

Complying with the law is one of the reasons you need a risk assessment at work, but it's not the only reason.

Risk assessments are used to:

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 danger.

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

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 are a little more legal. Because there are financial and contractual demands, health and safety responsibilities and laws help ensure you have a safe environment to work in.

Keeping your workforce safe and avoiding accidents is a legal requirement, but it's also a moral responsibility and the right thing to do.

injured worker

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.

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, harming you, your team, and your 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.

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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