How to do a health and safety risk assessment for your business

A health and safety risk assessment involves considering the risks in your workplace and putting measures in place to control them. Our handy guide will run through the rules and help you conduct a risk assessment for your business.

To put it plainly, the purpose of a health and safety risk assessment is to keep your workplace and your workers safe.

As a small business owner, the words ‘health and safety’ may cause you concern, but although it’s important for organisations to have comprehensive risk assessment procedures, complying with the rules isn’t as complicated as you think.

When should a risk assessment be carried out?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains that the purpose of a health and safety risk assessment is “identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.”

If you’re self-employed and work on your own, health and safety law doesn’t apply to you, as long as your work doesn’t pose a risk to the health and safety of other workers or members of the public.

And if you run a small business that has fewer than five employees, you’re not legally obliged to have a written health and safety or risk assessment policy.

Even if you’re not obliged to create a written risk assessment document, however, you still need to conduct a health and safety risk assessment, which means thinking about what might cause harm to people and deciding if you’re taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm.

It’s also important to understand that a risk assessment isn’t a ‘one time only’ exercise.

You need to regularly review it, and update it when necessary. If your business is taking part in a new activity, using new equipment or introducing a new procedure, for example, you’ll need to review your health and safety risk assessment.

The process of carrying out a risk assessment

The process of carrying out a risk assessment involves identifying the hazards, deciding who might be harmed and how, and evaluating the risks and taking necessary precautions. We’ll run through each of these steps in more detail below.

If you have at least five employees, you’ll then need to record your significant findings in writing. Once you’ve completed your health and safety risk assessment, you’ll need to make sure you review and update it when necessary.

It’s a good idea to involve your workers at each stage of the process, as they may be aware of risks that you’re not.

Identifying the hazards

First off, you’ll need to identify potential hazards. Walk around your workplace and consider anything that could potentially injure your employees or cause damage to their health. Think about the activities, processes and substances that could cause harm.

As well as considering possible accidents, you need to think about things that could cause long-term damage to health, such as high levels of noise and common causes of work-related mental health problems.

To make sure you’ve thought through all risks, check manufacturers’ instructions for chemicals and equipment, and check your accident log to remind yourself of previous problems.

Deciding who might be harmed and how

For each hazard you’ve identified, you need to consider who might be harmed, as this will help you think about how the risk can be controlled.

As well as your members of staff, you need to think about other groups of people who might be harmed by your work, such as contractors, visitors, and members of the public.

Also bear in mind that some workers, including pregnant women and workers with disabilities, will require special consideration.

Evaluating the risks and deciding on precautions

Now you’ve identified the hazards and who is at risk, you need to decide on the level of each risk and what you can do to manage it.

It’s impossible to eliminate all risk and you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks, but the law requires you to do what you reasonably can to manage risk responsibly.

Consider each hazard and whether you can get rid of it altogether, or control the risk to make harm unlikely. Depending on the risk, you may be able to do this by providing protective equipment, blocking access to the hazard, or providing washing facilities, for example.

How to write a risk assessment

Once you’ve conducted your risk assessment, the next step is writing your findings down. Note that if you have five or more employees, you have a legal obligation to have a written risk assessment.

But even if you have fewer than five employees and therefore no legal obligation, you might find it useful to write a risk assessment anyway so that you have a record and you can review it at a later date.

The written risk assessment should be a note of the main points of the significant risks and the conclusions you’ve made. It should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business.

According to the HSE, your written risk assessment can be quite simple. To write a good risk assessment you need to record that a check was made, that you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, and that you involved your employees or their representatives in the process.

If your health and safety risk assessment includes a number of hazards, you should put them in order of importance, starting with the most serious risks.

The greater the risk, the more robust and reliable your measures need to be. If proper controls can’t be put in place immediately, you should identify any quick improvements that can be implemented temporarily.

Health and safety risk assessment templates

You can download a free health and safety risk assessment template from the HSE website, where you can also find examples and case studies that show how other small businesses have identified and managed risks.

The risk assessment template includes a risk assessment table that you can fill in, identifying hazards and outlining what’s being done — and what needs to be done — to control them. There’s a sample entry for a common hazard to show the kind of thing that you might include.

Keeping your risk assessment up to date

A health and safety risk assessment isn’t something you only do once and then forget about. Workplaces are always changing, and that means that the hazards are changing too.

Put in place a process for regularly reviewing your risk assessment, and updating it where necessary. You’ll need to include new risks as and when they arise, for example if a new procedure is introduced, or if you buy new equipment.

Health and safety and business insurance

In terms of keeping your employees and your workplace safe, business insurance is also an important consideration. Even if you’ve conducted a really thorough health and safety risk assessment, accidents still happen.

For most employers, employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement. Public liability insurance is also a key cover to consider, as it can cover legal expenses or compensation claims if a member of the public suffers injury or damage because of your business.

For your cover to remain valid and for any claims to be paid, your insurer will expect you to take the necessary steps to meet your health and safety responsibilities.

Complying with health and safety law shouldn’t be too onerous, and much of it is common sense. If you need further help, check out the resources on the HSE website.

Do you find health and safety rules hard to follow, or does it all seem pretty straightforward? Tell us in the comments!

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