When it comes to improving your workplace's health and safety, there are few things more important than getting your risk assessments right. After all, if you don't know where your potential safety issues are, how can you tackle them with the appropriate control measures?
Every risk assessment will be different because every workplace's needs are different. There are a core group of health and safety topics that need to be covered by almost any organisation (e.g. fire risk assessment) and some specialist topics that vary depending on the company and its context (e.g. hazardous substances or legionella risk assessment). When it comes to the office risk assessment, one size certainly doesn't fit all.
What is a Risk Assessment?
On the surface, "what is a risk assessment" seems like an easy question to answer: it's a record of the possible risks and hazards in a working environment and the control measures in place to tackle them.
A quick internet search can reveal the technical basics of how to write a risk assessment. But all too often, they are seen as a box-ticking exercise, performed in isolation by one member of the management team purely to comply with legal requirements. The resulting document is sometimes then left to gather dust, with little relevance to the day-to-day work it refers to. This is a shame: effective risk assessments are a powerful tool to keep your staff safe and your accident rate down.
People responsible for writing them should begin by asking themselves: what is the purpose of a risk assessment? First and foremost, it exists to have real-world consequences – namely, the prevention of injury and accidents. If your risk assessment isn't a living document that is regularly updated and has a clear relationship to how work is being performed on the ground, it isn't doing its job.
The key to a good workplace or office risk assessment is the same as achieving good health and safety in general: communication with staff at all levels.
It's fine to use a risk assessment template as a guide. There are many good quality versions available online. However, it's vital to make sure yours is tailored to your specific circumstances.
The importance of communication flows both ways. Just as the suggested control measures are much more likely to be effective if they are the result of collaboration rather than dreamt up in isolation, workers are more likely to abide by health and safety rules if they know why they are in place. Like so much of successful health and safety culture, it must be an ongoing conversation. It must be a joint effort from everyone rather than something passed down from above with no explanation.
Risk Assessment Training
Writing a good risk assessment is a skill like any other. It can be improved with quality training and practice.
Any employee can learn how to write a risk assessment, though it is essentially a collaborative effort between everyone in the workplace. Employees should be empowered to speak up about the health and safety challenges they face in their workplace, from fire safety to stress levels, and the writing and updating of risk assessments are the perfect times for these discussions to be encouraged.