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Risk Assessment – What are my legal requirements?

All employers are legally required to make a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment’ of the risks to their employees’ safety and health, as well as the risks to others not in their employment that are created due to their work activities and the way they are undertaken.

If you employ five or more employees you are legally required to record the risk assessment process and use these documents to provide information / training to relevant persons. The following is an example of how costly it could be if you do not have a sufficient risk assessment in place, and someone is hurt or worse.

An explosion at a steelworks in 2015 resulted in the deaths of two employees with another being seriously injured.  The HSE investigation and court case ended with the company being fined 1.8 million pounds and required to pay costs of just under £150,000 for breaching Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The court heard how two employees (an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer) were working together in a basement on an accumulator vessel, when it exploded. It was determined that as the hydraulic lubricating oil was drained a flammable atmosphere developed which was ignited by an electrical heater within the accumulator.

It was found that the company failed to assess the risks presented by the carrying out of this activity and failed to ensure that a procedure that had developed over time and become “local custom and practice” was not, in practice, fully understood or even consistently carried out, which then exposed employees to the increased risk from explosion.

So, this would be an excellent time to check that the risk assessment process is being carried out within your business, that the process covers all of your tasks and activities, that the significant findings of the assessment are known and understood by the relevant employees and just as importantly that stated precautions are used in practice.  Lastly that the required review process is in place and being followed.

What should the assessment do?

Carrying out a risk assessment means that the management looks to the organisation’s tasks or activities, giving due consideration to what might cause harm to people, how this harm could manifest itself, and how they are then going to prevent that harm from occurring.

  • Look at the working environment and consider what may cause harm (the hazards), remembering by-products of activities such as noise and or vibration.  Consider that not all persons may be working at a specific site and include the use of vehicles and working away from the premise into the equation.
  • Look at what tasks (activities or processes) are carried out and / or what substances are in use or even produced by your processes (dusts / fumes), that could injure or harm either yourself, an employee or a member of the public / visitor?
  • Include all persons that may and could reasonably be deemed as possibly coming within the scope of the activities.  This would mean including young persons, lone workers, disabled workers or even pedestrians and other road users if one of your activities is driving.

Having determined what the risks are and who they may affect, you now need to determine what will be done to mitigate those risks to ensure they are reduced as far as practicable if not removed completely.

Once considered, assessments (whether recorded or not) must be communicated and then monitored to ensure safety is indeed managed, with current procedures or safe working practices, as well as the assessments themselves being  periodically reviewed to ensure current methodologies are keeping up with technological or other advances or changes to the work.  This is regardless of the number of employees you employ.

Employing less than 5 persons does not mean that you do not have to provide a safe and healthy working environment but does mean that the need for you to make the effort to record findings and produce documents is not legally required, although it is regarded as good practice and will save you the job of creating them if you further employ extra people which then brings the business within the scope of the legal requirement.

Lastly determine a review process including:

Who will conduct the reviews?

Under what circumstances (an accident / incident such as a near miss has occurred, changes to equipment, updating procedures, changes to staff or staff numbers, time passed) will a review be required to be conducted?


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