A risk assessment is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people in the workplace, so you can decide whether you have done enough or should do more to prevent harm. 

Workers and others (members of the public, visitors and contractors for example) have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures. 

The duty to carry out risk assessments is outlined in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). The requirements are wide-ranging and overlay other health and safety legislation, including the general duties in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

The provisions under MHSWR relate to both safety hazards and hazards to health, with duties extending to compliance with other regulations that have more detailed requirements, such as the Manual Handling Operations Regulations and the Control of Noise at Work Regulations.

A risk assessment is about identifying appropriate measures to control the risks in your workplace.

Gather information about your legal duties from up-to-date sources of good practice, including (for example) guidance from:

  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - particularly Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs);
  • government departments;
  • recognised employers or trade organisations;
  • professional institutions; and
  • manufacturers and suppliers (e.g. operator instructions), where appropriate.

Appoint one or more competent persons to assist in the risk assessment and review process.

A competent person is someone equipped with sufficient knowledge, experience, skills, abilities, training and other qualities to enable them to undertake these duties. Whether additional training is needed and/or external assistance is required in the short or longer term should be identified together with suitable providers.

Specialist advice may be needed where the assessment relates to complex or high risk activities.

Ensure risk assessments take account of the specific things that must be done to meet the requirements of all relevant regulations and take place before commencing the work that gives rise to the risk.

The risk assessment provisions under MHSWR are all-embracing and comprehensive in coverage of places, activities and other sources of hazard. 

Everything that is ‘reasonably practicable’ must be done to protect people from harm. Decisions on the adequacy of precautions can generally be satisfied by systematically identifying that good practice is being followed.

You need to ensure that you identify:

  • the hazards from your own knowledge and research, and through consultation with your employees; and
  • individuals or groups who might be harmed and how, especially those who are at particular risk.

    - Some workers have particular requirements. Examples include new, inexperienced and young workers, expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, migrant workers, homeworkers and lone workers.

    - Think about people not in the workplace all the time, such as remote workers and those involved in off-site activities, as well as contractors, maintenance workers and visitors.

    - Consider members of the public that could be harmed by your activities.

If you share your premises, consider how your work affects others and how their work impacts you and your workers. Co-operation and sharing information is essential.

Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or if more should be done. Considerations should, for example, include:

  • the provision, communication and adequacy of safe systems of work; and
  • development and implementation of permit to work systems for high risk activities.

Record and communicate the findings of your risk assessment with employees and develop action plans to ensure any additional controls required are implemented.

The significant findings of all assessments must be recorded if you have five or more employees.

Review your assessments to respond to changes that will affect the validity of existing precautions or that introduce new hazards. Additionally, they should be reviewed at suitable intervals to make sure the precautions are still working effectively.

Avoid making assumptions based on the content of previous risk assessments and don’t assume that they were suitable and sufficient or that there have been no changes to processes, premises, people, equipment, etc. since.

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Frequently asked questions
Find answers to some common queries about health and safety issues and related legislation.