21st April, 2022
A risk assessment is a health and safety document that most people at work (even those that don't work in health and safety) have heard of. Beyond just being a legal requirement, there are many reasons why risk assessments are important. Let's discuss why.
Risk assessments are never optional at work. They are a legal requirement. If you are in business, your activities must be risk assessed.
Employers have many legal health and safety responsibilities, but the primary one is to prevent harm to people. And risk assessment is a key part of controlling risks (and therefore preventing harm).
(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—
- the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
- 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 [...]
You might think it's important to carry out a risk assessment, because it is a legal requirement, and you would be right. But that's not the only reason.
There are lots of reasons why it's important to carry out a risk assessment, and it should be more than just a box-ticking exercise. Your business, and people's lives, can depend on it.
Here are 8 reasons why risk assessment is important in your business:
The legal requirement is the last item on our list. So don't just do your risk assessment to comply with the law. It's a mistake many businesses make, and they lose sight of the really important reasons to risk assess. To prevent harm.
You should carry out a risk assessment to keep you and your team safe, and to make sure everyone finishes the job in one piece. It sounds simple, but taking it back to basics, that's what a risk assessment is. A way to keep you safe.
If we look at the 5 steps to risk assessment, we can see that those 5 steps outline many of the reasons listed above.
It's not just important to carry out a risk assessment, but that your risk assessment is suitable (and sufficient). That means it needs to be suitable for the task or activity you are completing, and sufficient enough that it will reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
So far as is reasonably practicable is a legal term, which you can find out more about in our blog post So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable' Meaning Explained For Health And Safety.
The HSE outlines 5 steps that should be followed in the risk assessment process.
In step one, you should be looking for anything that may cause harm, in other words, spotting hazards.
After that, in step 2, you should be deciding who might be harmed and how. How could those hazards harm people, and who might they harm? This could be workers, visitors, the public etc.
In step 3 you need to assess the risks we have identified, and take action. This involves planning how the work can be completed safely, any controls needed, and further action to make sure people are protected.
It's only once you get to step 4 that you need to record our risk assessment findings.
You might get tempted to skip ahead to step 4, without giving much consideration to the first 3 steps. Especially if you are only writing risk assessments because they are a legal requirement.
That's why it's important to understand the benefits and purpose of a risk assessment.
If you just write a risk assessment, without properly considering the hazards, the people and the controls, you're unlikely to keep people safe.
And if you have a written risk assessment, but haven't gone through each of the steps, then it's unlikely to comply with the law at all. After all, the law isn't to have any old risk assessment document in place. The legal requirement is to have a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
You can use our free risk assessment template to help create your document!
And finally, step 5, review the risk assessment. Are you still using a risk assessment someone completed 6 years ago? It's probably time for an update!
Don't forget, one of the reasons risk assessments are important is to make improvements. Things change, people change, and new data and best practices develop over time. So keep your risk assessments up to date with these changes.
Why are all these things important? Because no business that harms its workers can survive. It's bad for business.
Any gaps in your risk assessment process are going to leave a portion of your work activities open to risks. These risks can harm people, and also your business.
Think about just some of the consequences of failing to control risks, and harming your people (and others) through your business activities:
Now we have looked at why it's always important to carry out a risk assessment, it should be fairly obvious that whenever there is a risk, there needs to be a risk assessment.
You should carry out your risk assessment before an activity starts. Because only once you have assessed the activity, can you safely plan how the activity needs to be done, and the controls you need to protect workers.
It is a legal requirement that risk assessments are carried out for all of your activities. Your assessments should cover all of the risks people are exposed to from your business.
No, although this is a common misconception. Having less than 5 employees doesn't make you exempt from the requirement to do a risk assessment. You still need to risk assess your work.
It is a legal requirement for every employer.
(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment [...]
You still need to do a risk assessment, you just don't legally need to keep a written record.
(6) Where the employer employs five or more employees, he shall record—
- the significant findings of the assessment; and
- any group of his employees identified by it as being especially at risk.
Keeping a written record can still be good practice.
It's easier to communicate risks with your workers and clients when they are written down. And it shows that you are complying with the legal requirement to do a risk assessment in the first place. For example, health and safety accreditations will be require written records as evidence.
Nope. The health and safety responsibilities of employers often also apply to the self-employed. In the case of risk assessments, you also have a legal duty.
(2) Every self-employed person shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—
- the risks to his own health and safety to which he is exposed whilst he is at work; and
- 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,
Always needing a risk assessment might seem overwhelming at first, but remember earlier when we said that risk assessments should be suitable and sufficient? That means you can use a bit of common sense here.
If you have low-risk activities in your business, with only a few hazards that are unlikely to cause any serious harm, your risk assessment does not need to be long or complex. Your controls are probably going to be cheap and easy to implement.
Focus more of your efforts on higher risk activities as a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for these activities is likely to be more in-depth, with tighter controls.
You can use our free risk assessment calculator to check if a hazard is high or low risk.
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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