A key aspect of a UK employer's health and safety responsibility lies with their ability to control the risk - for example, identifying a potential hazard before it can become an issue. To do this, an employer must conduct a risk assessment, which is the analysis of the workplace and all of the health and safety issues which are concerned with it. A risk assessment is a legal requirement stated within two key pieces of UK health and safety legislation: the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Therefore, it is essential for an employer to ensure they have conducted risk assessments in the workplace effectively.
What advice does the UK Health and Safety Executive offer on risk assessments in the workplace?
The UK Health and Safety Executive is the watchdog of health and safety issues within organisations and businesses in the UK. The advice which this body offers regarding risk assessments is vital. The Health and Safety Executive states that if a business has fewer than five employees, then they are not legally committed to write down and record the steps of the risk assessment. However, if a business has more than five employees, then the steps taken to conduct the risk assessment must be recorded.
The first step of a risk assessment is to identify all of the potential hazards before they can become an issue within the workplace. To identify these hazards, there are a few conditions which need to be considered in relation to these hazards, such as:
- The type of employees you have within your workplace. For example, are any of your employees pregnant? If so, a pregnant employee may be more at risk to certain hazards than other employees, and it needs to be considered that this employee needs to be protected even more so than normal.
- What is your particular workplace like? For example, if your workplace is an office-based environment, the potential hazards may be fewer than a workplace which is laboratory-based using harmful chemicals and substances. It is important to consider what type of risks will be present within your workplace.
What other steps can be taken to identify a potential hazard before it becomes an issue?
1) As an employer, you should have a record and documentation of previous incidents which have occurred in the workplace. Through analysing these records, it gives your risk assessment a sound starting point to analyse where hazards have occurred previously, to ensure that these hazards don't arise again.
2) Consider hazards which may not arise spontaneously, but are long-term hazards and therefore the effects are also long-term - for example, if there is a continuous level of high noise or a constant exposure to harmful chemicals or substances in a laboratory. Employers need to ensure the long-term exposure isn't harmful and all exposure to the harmful substances is considered.
3) Consider your obvious hazards. For example, if your employment involves working at height, this is noticeably a dangerous form of employment, and as a result each form of activity within this job must be analysed to find all potential hazards.
It is essential for an employer to appoint a team of health and safety employees to conduct a risk assessment, used to identify a potential hazard before it becomes an issue. Training and knowledge of how to conduct risk assessments effectively will be beneficial to an employer and subsequently their employees.