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Risk Assessments in the Workplace

Risk assessment is at the heart of the UK’s Health & Safety system. In every task that we undertake, whether in our homes, or in the workplace, there is an element of risk. Often the risk is small, but it is a still a risk non-the-less. Whilst it is a known fact that many accidents occur in the home, during the year 2004/05, 220 fatalities occurred in the workplace, and more then 150,000 injuries, all because of a failure to manage risk

The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) is the body responsible in the UK for legally enforcing basic heath and safety “best practice” under the umbrella legislation created and enacted in the “Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Under this act, it is the responsibility of the employer to look at the risks that arise in the workplace with a view to putting appropriate safety measure in place to control them. This is a legal requirement acted upon every employer in the UK, and severe penalties incurring large financial fines and possible terms of imprisonment may result from any dereliction of this duty.

The first step in a proactive health and safety system is the identification of any risks be they due to (a) the works being carried out and the methods employed to carry them out; (b) the environment that the works are being carried out within, and (c) the inherent risks of certain materials and substances that are being handled.

The objective of any risk assessment system is to (1) Identify the presence of risk; (2) to propose methods of eliminating the risk, and; (3) to propose safe working methods to minimize risk.

There are five steps to compiling an effective risk assessment. They are:

1. To identify any hazards
2. To identify who could be harmed and how that harm may come about.
3. To evaluate or “grade” the risk and recommend appropriate precautions and to ensure that appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is made available.
4. To record the assessment in writing and implement the procedure.
5. Review and update the risk assessment as and when necessary.

A hazard is considered to be anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working on ladders, an draw left open, loose electrical cables etc

The risk is the chance ,whether it is high or low, that anybody could be harmed by these and/or other hazards, together with an assessment of how serious the harm could be.

To assist in ensuring that employers make the risk assessments as complete as possible, the HSE has published a sample risk assessment form that can be downloaded from their website. There is also a copy of the HSE’s “5 steps to risk assessment” leaflet that can be downloaded from the same site.

Risk assessment need not be onerous or over burdensome. The HSE recognizes that employers must also take costs into account albeit never at the expense of human safety; but the term “reasonably practical” is applied when evaluating preventative measures.

With regard to hazardous substances, there is a separate procedure and guidance in place under the COSHH (Care of Substances Harmful to Health) regulations.

Full guidance on all matters regarding health and safety in the workplace is available on the HSE website, and/or trained health and safety practitioners and consultants can be employed.

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