Every workplace, every home, every road, pavement and shop, in fact, everywhere, is full of risk.
Throughout our daily life we are continually assessing and managing those risks. Whether that be avoiding burning ourselves on a hot drink, or making sure we cross the road safely.
Risk in the workplace.
As with everywhere else in life, the workplace is full of risk. So, how do we define ‘risk’? Well a risk is the combination of a hazard and people’s exposure to that hazard.
Managing risk is the process of ensuring that hazards aren’t given the opportunity to cause harm.
Some workplace risks are obvious and measures to protect workers are defined in legislation. Others will be less obvious, or impossible to prepare for until they occur.
The process of risk assessment
This could be simply the process of walking around the workplace and seeing where potential harm might be lurking. If the environment is familiar to you, it might be all too easy to miss hazards, walking straight past them.
Some tips for making sure that all hazards are identified:
- Look back through your own health and safety records, including accident reporting.
- Make sure all equipment is set up and maintained according to the manufacturer’s handbook.
- Think about long term health implications as well as immediate danger.
- Use official guidelines, such as those from HSE.
Identify who might be harmed
Speak to the workforce, those that may be exposed to risk on a daily basis, and find out their concerns.
It might not always be obvious who could at risk. Establishing the groups of people who are at risk will help identify ways of minimizing the risk.
- Some workers may have particular needs or disabilities which put them in greater danger.
- It might not be just the workforce who is at risk. Do customers have access to the area? Even someone reading the electricity meter needs to be considered, as do any contractors working on your site.
- Spaces shared with other businesses are potentially complicated. Make sure you have agreements in place to inform each other of changes to the environment.
- Again, speak to the workers, they will point out any groups of people you have failed to identify as at risk.
Evaluate the risks
You now need to decide how likely it is that the people you have identified may be harmed by the hazard. From there, you are expected to take all possible, reasonable precautions to protect people from harm. You do not need to take actions which are wildly disproportionate to the risks. Nor are you expected to have a crystal ball to anticipate unforeseen risks.
If the risks can’t be eliminated completely then take these practicable steps:
- Pick the least risky option
- Prevent access to a hazardous area or substance
- Provide suitable protection in the form of PPE
- Organise work spaces to reduce exposure to hazards.
- Make sure all staff are trained in both their roles and in health and safety.
- Provide washing facilities, first aid equipment and refuge areas.
- Hold consultations with those who work with the hazards.
Record all of your findings. Your risk assessments should show that you:
- Made a proper check.
- Found out who could be affected.
- Dealt with obvious and significant hazards.
- Took appropriate precautions to leave only low risks.
- You involved other people who are affected.
Health and safety really is everybody’s business. Using health and safety skills, equipment and tools to eliminate as much risk as possible is the very minimum every business should do.