Risk assessments

Overview

What is a risk assessment?

  • A risk assessment is nothing more than a careful examination of what could cause harm to people. It provides a useful opportunity to identify:
    • any significant hazards associated with the work which present a risk to the health and safety of anyone directly or indirectly involved in the work activity
    • appropriate and reasonable measures required to reduce risk to an acceptable level
  • When thinking about your risk assessment, remember:
    • a hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc
    • the risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be
  • All businesses and organisations are legally required to assess the risks associated with work activities, and record significant findings if they have 5 or more employees. Risk assessment is not an onerous exercise and should not be overcomplicated.

Process

Process of risk assessment

The process of risk assessment is quite logical and always follows the same basic process:

Identify significant hazards

  • A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm - in other words an accident waiting to happen.
  • Identify only those that you could reasonably expect to cause significant injuries or affect several people. Think of situations where exposures to the hazards are most likely to occur to help determine the risks associated with these hazards.

Consider who might be exposed and harmed?

  • Consider all those individuals who may be affected by hazards associated with the activity. Obvious people include those directly involved in the work, for example, laboratory workers who routinely work in the area. However, where appropriate, consider other people such as cleaners and all those handling waste material, and individuals with specific needs such as expectant mothers and the disabled.

Select measures required to control risks

  • Once significant hazards have been identified the next stage is to list the control measures that are currently in place for all the significant hazards identified. Then compare this with the good practice and see if there's more you should be doing to bring yourself up to standard.
  • What is actually done to either reduce as 'low as reasonably practicable' or eliminate the risks associated with the task you are doing depends on each set of circumstances. As a general guide, however, the risks should be controlled by the application of what is referred to as the hierarchy of control measures. these include:
    • elimination: can the hazard be avoided or at least altered to reduce the likelihood of risk? For example can 'open source' radioactive substances be avoided by using an alternative technique?
    • substitution: where possible, the risk should be reduced by substituting for a less hazardous substance or process. For example, the use of commercial acrylamide solution is far safer than the use of acrylamide powder that will generate harmful dust
    • engineering / mechanical controls: can engineering or mechanical aids be used to avoid or reduce the risk by segregating people from the hazard. Examples include the use of fume cupboards and safety cabinets, which are used to contain the hazard by enclosure. use of guards on machinery prevent access to the hazard
    • reduced exposure: where risk is increased by the time of exposure, certain means can be used to reduce this
    • introduce safe systems of work: these represent the safety procedures or instructions to ensure the hazards are eliminated or risks minimised
    • information: students and staff should be informed of the risks, instructed in the correct safe working practices and given relevant safety procedures (safe systems of work) where appropriate
    • personal protective equipment (PPE): where the above measures do not fully remove the risk, PPE should be considered. In the laboratory, typical PPE includes the use of a laboratory coat (e.g. for wet-laboratory and biological material), gloves, and safety glasses. The use of PPE is not ideal, however, since it is not always easy to guarantee in terms of effectiveness. It is sometimes difficult to select accurately and maintain correctly.

Assess the residual risk level

  • The term risk represents the likelihood of hazardous events occurring and the severity of the resulting consequences
  • Where risks are already controlled, this part of the assessment exercise establishes the effectiveness of selected control measures. Further controls should be considered if the risk level has not been reduced as far as reasonably practicable. this will require the judgement or subjective evaluation of the assessor.
  • For each potential hazard identified assess the associated residual level of risk by combining:
    • the consequence of the hazard in the event of exposure, (i.e. the level of harm that could theoretically be realised) and,
    • the likelihood of harm occurring (assume existing control measures are in place)

A risk matrix table is often used to estimate the level of risk as "high", "medium", "low"

Risk matrix
Consequence of hazardLikelihood of hazard
LikelyUnlikelyHighly unlikely
Severe (extremely harmful) High High Medium / Low
Medium (harmful) High Medium Low
Minor (slightly harmful) Medium / Low Low Low

Record significant findings and implement control measures

  • The significant findings of risk assessments must be recorded for all businesses and organisations with 5 or more employees. This is also useful so that you can review it at a later date if, for example, something changes
  • When writing down your results, keep it simple, and record the key points
  • You are not expected to write a perfect risk assessment- but it must be suitable and sufficient

Assessment review

  • It is important that the assessment is reviewed:
    • when a significant change to the work activity occurs
    • following a incident or accident which highlights deficiencies in the assessment
  • It is recommended that assessments are reviewed formally every year or so, to make sure it is still relevant and accurate.