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Health and Safety Risk Assessment: A Must For Your Business

Jul 30, 2008
In the litigious society we live in, risk assessments have become as necessary for businesses as remembering to stock up on pens. Every business is liable from multi-billion pound corporations to 'mom and pop' outfits.
Smaller companies often choose to do these risk assessments themselves although larger companies often choose to outsource it to Health and Safety experts to minimise any potential risks.

In this kind of situations being the smallest company can be extremely hazardous. Even though you stand a much lower risk of being at the receiving end of litigation it can be very hard to be able to be objective and look through a critical eye at a workplace.

A businesses obligation as far as health and safety goes is not necessarily to remove all element of risk but to protect you, employees and members of the public as far as is 'reasonably practicable'.

A basic risk assessment has 3 major stages:

Identifying the hazards and who is at risk from them.

Decide what course of action is required depending on the degree of risk.

Implement any necessary precautions and make a record.

Once these are complete a regular review is required to ensure that the original assessment was correct and to account for any changes in the workplace.

There are 3 main divisions of hazards:

Environmental hazards: such as pollutions i.e. smoke, grit or dust.

Activity hazards: a hazard that may result from a activity a worker must perform i.e. repetitive strain injury.

Workplace hazards: a hazard resulting from the location or layout of the workplace.

There are thousands of potential workplace hazards, a list of the easy to overlook ones include:

The adequate storage, handling and disposal of potentially hazardous chemicals

Faulty electrical equipment

Loose cabling

Insufficient rest breaks

Wet, slippery, unclean or badly surfaced floors

Poorly lit areas

Inadequate Ventilation

Poorly designed workstations

Inappropriate training or procedures

To help identify all potential hazards in a small company it is useful to get all staff members involved to help to get a range of views on the risks they may face in their day to day jobs.

Once risks are identified classify them as low, medium or high risk. High and Medium risk problems will need to be dealt with immediately. While low risk may require the implementation of new training, procedures or possibly no action at all if current safety precautions are adequate.

Taking steps to minimise the risk of workplace injury may include replacing old equipment, introducing new procedures, modernising training etc. Any hazardous materials that have been identified may be reduced as a risk by replacing it with a less hazardous substance, using it in lower quantities, introducing protective equipment/ clothing or reducing the amount of time people are exposed to it.

In a company with fewer than 5 employees it is not a legal requirement to have a written risk assessment, however it may be beneficial in many circumstances to ensure liability is kept to a minimum and that any future risk assessments have a previous basis to work on. It is a good idea to do an annual review to ensure any new equipment, personnel, procedures or premises changes are accounted for.

Often companies will carry out risk assessments after an accident to ensure that it is not a hazard for which they are liable or that could be a danger to another employee or member of the public.

Risk assessments should be a vital part of your business practices regardless of whether you are going it alone or hiring in a professional Health and Safety company. They protect you as a company in the short term, in the case of litigation and, in the long term, by protecting the health and well being of everyone who steps foot in your businesses workplace.

Done properly, they can nip a problem in the bud. Done badly, they can leave you open to a variety of problems. In a choice between a comprehensive risk assessment or the cost of hiring a good solicitor to sort out all the problems created; the assessment will always be the money better spent.
About the Author
Richard James works for HSE Services, where UK companies can receive quotes from up to 4 reliable health and safety consultants. Visit http://www.hseservices.co.uk for details.
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