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What are the five steps to risk assessment?

The HSE advises employers to follow five steps when carrying out a workplace risk assessment:

Step 1: Identify hazards, i.e. anything that may cause harm

Employers have a duty to assess the health and safety risks faced by their workers. Your employer must systematically check for possible physical, mental, chemical and biological hazards.

This is one common classification of hazards:

  • Physical: e.g. lifting, awkward postures, slips and trips, noise, dust, machinery, computer equipment, etc.
  • Mental: e.g. excess workload, long hours, working with high-need clients, bullying, etc. These are also called 'psychosocial' hazards, affecting mental health and occurring within working relationships.
  • Chemical: e.g. asbestos, cleaning fluids, aerosols, etc.
  • Biological: including tuberculosis, hepatitis and other infectious diseases faced by healthcare workers, home care staff and other healthcare professionals.

Step 2: Decide who may be harmed, and how

Identifying who is at risk starts with your organisation's own full- and part-time employees. Employers must also assess risks faced by agency and contract staff visitors, clients and other members of the public on their premises.

Employers must review work routines in all the different locations and situations where their staff are employed. Examples:

  • Home care supervisors must take due account of their client's personal safety in the home, and ensure safe working and lifting arrangements for their own home care staff.
  • In a supermarket, hazards are found in the repetitive tasks at the checkout, in lifting loads, and in slips and trips from spillages and obstacles in the shop and storerooms. Staff face the risk of violence from customers and intruders, especially in the evenings.
  • In call centres, workstation equipment (i.e. desk, screen, keyboard, chair) must be adjusted to suit each employee.

Employers have special duties towards the health and safety of young workers, disabled employees, night- or shift-workers, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Step 3: Assess the risks, and take action

This means employers must consider how likely it is that each hazard could cause harm. This will determine whether or not your employer should reduce the level of risk. Even after all precautions have been taken, some risk usually remains. Employers must decide for each remaining hazard whether the risk remains high, medium or low.

Step 4: Make a record of the findings

Employers with five or more staff are required to record in writing the main findings of the risk assessment. This record should include details of any hazards noted in the risk assessment, and action taken to reduce or eliminate risk.

This record provides proof that the assessment was carried out, and the basis for a later review of working practices. The risk assessment is a working document. You should be able to read it. It should not be locked away in a cupboard.

Step 5: Review the risk assessment

A risk assessment must be kept under review in order to:

  • ensure that agreed safe working practices continue to be applied, e.g. that management's safety instructions are respected by supervisors and line managers; and
  • take account of any new working practices, new machinery, or more demanding work targets.