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Risk Assessment

Key learning points – Risk Assessment:

All about risk assessment. Definitions of the terms ‘hazard’, ‘hazardous event’ and ‘risk’. Definition of the term ‘risk assessment’. Definition of the terms ‘likelihood’ and ‘consequence’. Risk assessment process and risk rating systems. The benefits of carrying out risk assessment.

What is Hazard?

Anything that has the potential to cause harm.

What is a Risk?

The likelihood that a hazards will cause harm in combination with severity of injury, damage or loss that might foreseeably occur.

What is a Risk Assessment?

It is a formalized process of identifying hazards, evaluating risk and then either eliminating or controlling that risk to an acceptable level.

The main objective of a risk assessment is the prevention of accidents and ill-health.

Now lets do a simple example:

Identify the hazards that are present in the workplace or in the room that you are now and write it down.

Hazards types can be of:-

  • Physical – such as heat, lighting, noise, vibration, pressure etc.
  • Chemical – Any acids and alkalis, metals, gases etc.
  • Biological – these may be animal borne such as anthrax, rabies
  • Ergonomical – poor layout of workstation
  • Psychological – Stress, unsocial work hours, lone working


Carrying out a Risk Assessment

Risk assessment can be described as a five steps process:-

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Identify the people who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risk and decide on precautions
  4. Record the significant findings and implement them
  5. Review and update as necessary.


Identifying Hazards

The first step in the risk assessment process is to identify all the significant hazards associated with the work. Hazards are the things with the potential to cause harm. It is important to identify both the safety hazards that might give rise to immediate physical injury and the health hazards that might cause disease or ill-health. This hazard identification might be done by task analysis, reference to guidance or manufactures information or by inspection of the workplace.

Identifying the people at risk

When identifying people at risk, think not only of those carrying out particular activities, but also of those who may be affected by those activities. Individuals do not need to be named; rather general groups or populations identified. Some of the examples of people at risk are:-

  • Workers / Operators
  • Maintenance Staff
  • Cleaners
  • Contractors
  • Visitors
  • Members of the public


Evaluating the risk and decide on precautions

Having identified a particular hazards and the people who might be harmed by it the next step in the risk assessment process is to answer a simple question; Is the level of risk generated by the hazard acceptable or does it need to be reduced?

The question may be simple, but the answer can at times be complex.

Risk is a combination of the likelihood that a hazard will cause harm in combination with the foreseeable severity of injury should harm occur. Risk can be qualitatively described using words such as “Very High”, “High”, “Medium”, ”Low”.

An alternative approach that is commonly adopted is to break risk down into its two component parts and define each separately:

Risk = Likelihood x Severity

Then by simple substation of word for a score it is possible to calculate a risk rating for a particular hazard.

For Example

1 = extremely Unlikely1 = very minor injury
2 = Unlikely2 = First aid injury
3 = Possible3 = Lost time injury
4 = Likely4 = Hospital treatment
5 = Very probable5 = Disabling Injury


Once we get the risk rating we can decide on what actions to be taken. Below is an example.

Risk RatingAction and Timescale
15 and aboveUnacceptable. Work may not start. Additional controls must be introduced to reduce below 9.
9 to 14Tolerable. Additional controls must be introduced as soon as possible and no later than 24 hours after assessment.
5 to 8Tolerable. Must be reduced to below 5 within one week.
4 or belowAcceptable. If simple action can reduce further then must be done within one week.


Record Significant Findings

The significant findings of risk assessment should be recorded to provide a statement of the hazards in the workplace, the extend of the risks that they present and the action taken to control those risks.

There are no standard format for risk assessment. So different organisations can adopt a format that is most appropriate to their circumstances.

Typical content would include:

  • Identification of the activity / area assessed and of the significant hazards
  • Identification of groups at risk and those especially at risk
  • Evaluation of the risks and the adequacy of existing control measures
  • Action plans for implementing further precautions needed
  • Date of assessment and name of the competent person carrying out the assessment
  • Review date.


Review of Assessment

There are a number of situations that might trigger a review of a risk assessment.

  • Process- the way in which the job is done
  • Substance- change of material
  • Equipment- change of equipment
  • Workplace environment- change of the workplace
  • Personnel- change in people
  • Legal standards- change in legal standard
  • Accident
  • Near miss
  • Ill health

It is also a good practice to review risk assessment on a regular basis. An annual review of the risk assessment is a common practice in many workplace.

A risk assessment should be suitable and sufficient. In other words it should be good enough to fulfil legal requirements and prevent foreseeable injuries and ill health from happening.

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