This tutorial is designed to show you how to write your own risk assessments. It doesn't matter what industry sector you're in or what your line of work is as a risk assessments aren't industry specific. Instead they are designed to help you eliminate or reduce the likelihood of a hazard that may cause a risk to employees or others. An important thing to take into account whilst creating a risk assessment is that all risks are subjective.
- Example 1: Every time we go to bed there is the risk of us falling out of bed which could cause injury. This is without doubt a risk that we all face every night. However, when we look at this subjectively, the likelihood of someone falling out of bed is extremely low, and the probable injuries would be minor.
So, the first lesson learnt is that knowing how to write a risk assessment starts with common sense. If you'd like to download our free risk assessment template HERE you may find it easier to follow the rest of this tutorial. Additionally, there is an accompanying video on the left hand side of this page that shows you how to write your own risk assessments using the template.
The key elements in the template are the following sections:
- Potential hazards
- People at risk and how
- Actions already in place
- Further action required
- Target dates
- Substance risks
The first consideration when writing risk assessments is 'Potential hazards', or to be more accurate, identifying potential hazards, their likelihood of occurrence and severity of potential harm. This is known as hazard identification and as mentioned earlier, it's subjective. You cannot write a risk assessment that will stop every person in the world from ever having an accident, instead what you should try and do is eliminate risks where possible and control risks that cannot be eliminated using control measures and most importantly, education. Tell people that a floor may be slippy when wet by using signage to let people know about the risk.
The image below shows the 'Potential hazards' column filled in and for the case of this tutorial I have chosen two types of falls from height. From a hop up and potentially falling into an excavation. Other types of falls from height may include a variety of access equipment from step ladders to scaffolding.
Now that I've identified two potential hazards, the next step in writing the risk assessment is to identify the people at risk. This could be direct employees, sub contractors, members of the public or anyone else that may be at risk. For this example though we are only considering the person who may fall.
As well as identifying the risk, in this column we include how the risk could lead to injury and the severity of any possible injuries. The image below shows an example of what to write in this column.
Next we look at what actions are already in place to reduce the likelihood or severity of an accident or injury occurring. On the surface it may seem that if actions are already in place then there is no need for you to write a risk assessment. However, the risk assessment's not written so that it ticks the boxes of a companies health and safety policy. It's there to give to the people who are at risk and educate them on how to minimise specific risks whilst carrying out tasks or using certain equipment.
As you can see from the image below, there are already five actions in place for each risk.These actions can't take away the risk, but they are there to minimise the likelihood and severity of the risk. It's important to remember when writing your own risk assessments, that the best solution is to eliminate a risk completely, by changing working practices or equipment, and if this can't be done, actions are put in place to minimise the likelihood and severity of the risk.
We move on now to 'further action required'. This field is there for the evolution of the risk assessment and as a set of instructions to managers, ensuing that they carry out actions that are required. The last three columns are also encompassed by this field as they show the initials of the person who is to action the additional control measures, the target date of when the actions should have taken place by, and whether the actions have been completed at the next review.
Some FAQs we get asked when people are starting to write their own risk assessment are:
‘Do I need to write a Risk Assessment?’
If your business has more than four employees including yourself, the law dictates that you must control the risks in your workplace by Risk Assessments.
If you are self-employed you will need to carry out Risk Assessments to evaluate whether your business may cause harm to you and others and if you are doing enough to prevent possible harm.
If you have less than five employees or are a subcontractor, you may still have to provide Risk Assessments at the principal contractor’s behest.
‘When do I need to write a Risk Assessment?’
If you look at our Risk Assessment Template, you will see that there is a review date that takes place every six months. One of the main reasons for this review date is because your Risk Assessments should be completed before you carry out any work and once you start the work you may find hazards that were not at first apparent.
Often Health and Safety documents including, Risk, Method, COSHH, Policies etc… have to be submitted during tendering processes so that clients can see how you intend carrying out a job and managing the hazards. This means your Health and Safety package has to be in place before and in case you are awarded work.
‘Do I need to write a Risk Assessment every Year?’
No. You will need to create Risk Assessments for any hazards that you’ve identified that have the potential to cause harm to your staff or others. Once you’ve created the document it can be used for life, providing the hazards and control measures remain the same. Each document should be edited and amended as required and reviewed at six month intervals.
This becomes clearer to understand once you’ve read the text below about an old van having three control measures fitted over a twenty-year period.
‘What is a control measure?’
Control measures are actions or systems that can reduce the likelihood of harm. Something that has the potential to prevent or reduce hazards.
As an example, an old panel van has no rear view mirror. One of the control measures to prevent collision when reversing is the incorporation of wing mirrors.
Ten years after the vans manufacture a second control measure was invented and fitted. This was a hazard warning played when the vehicle engaged reverse gear. ‘Caution, this vehicle is reversing... …caution, this vehicle is reversing…’
Five years after that a third control measure was invented and fitted. This was rear parking sensors.
Five years after that a fourth control measure was invented and fitted. This was a rear view camera.
As you can see from the example above, the risks of harm, vehicle damage, collision etc… remain the same during the life of the van. Yet towards the end of the vans life it had an audible caution message, intelligent parking sensors and a rear view camera fitted. With the control measures fitted, although the risks were still there, the likelihood of a dangerous occurrence was drastically reduced, making reversing the van a much safer manouvre with control measures implemented.
Some control measures don’t try to prevent or reduce the likelihood of harm, yet they are not passive systems. Examples include, ejector seats, seatbelts, airbags. All of which are designed to reduce damage once an incident has occurred. These are measures that are not controlling the likelihood of an event happening, they are controlling the outcome of an event once it has occurred.
‘What is risk evaluation?’
Risk evaluation is a process that’s subjective and not set in stone. As an example, if an astronaut left his space ship without a space suit he would die. However, there’s probably no documentation to tell an astronaut to put on a space suit before leaving ship. There’s probably a Risk Assessment to tell him to examine suit for wear, pressure test suit, make sure all joints are working etc…. but nothing to tell him to put the suit on in the first place.
It’s like telling employees to open a door before they walk through it.
To enter a car (If you’re the driver), by the front right hand door.
To stop at a red light and go at a green one.
Some things are considered obvious for adults of normal intelligence.
So, when evaluating a potential hazard for a Risk Assessment, it becomes subjective to the assessor. As an example, if I was using a Risk Assessment Template for an astronaut leaving a space ship, I wouldn’t consider him going through the airlock without a space suit, yet someone else might think this relevant.
Because risk evaluation in health and safety is subjective, there is no point in using a ranking system as the person judging the potential outcomes is usually the author.
Risk evaluation is simply looking at a task, deciding if the task has significant risks then deciding if control measures can be implemented to reduce the likelihood of the risk occurring.
As an example let’s consider the evolution of the van’s control measures and summarise with the following when using the Risk Assessment TemplateÃ¢â?¬â?¹:
Identify the hazards (Reversing)
Identify who is at risk, including non-employees (Driver, passenger, people or animals behind van)
Identify existing control measures (Wing mirrors fitted as standard)
Evaluation of risks (What are the risks and how can they be controlled)
Put control measures in place (Parking sensors, rear view camera)
Keep records (The date, why and when rear view camera was installed)
Review and amend (Read, review, sign and date Risk Assessment every six months, or amend as new risks or control measures are relevant)
Share (There’s no point in carrying out a Risk Assessment if it doesn’t go to the people carrying out the task. In this case, give it to the driver)