Faced with the mass of legislation, meeting your health and safety requirements can seem a daunting task. Fortunately, the most critical part of managing health and safety - risk assessment - is relatively straightforward.
This briefing provides an overview of your responsibilities under health and safety legislation. It covers:
- How to carry out a risk assessment.
- What the most common hazards are.
- How to control the risks.
- Handling the paperwork.
1 The process
In most work environments, you (or your designated health and safety officer) can carry out the risk assessment yourself, calling in specialist help for specific hazards (eg to monitor levels of airborne particles or noise).
1.1 Identify the hazards (see 2, 3 and 4).
1.2 Decide who could be affected.
You are responsible for the health and safety of everyone who could be affected, not just your employees.
1.3 Evaluate how likely it is that employees and others could be hurt and how effective your existing precautions are (see 5).
- If there are any specific legal requirements affecting your industry, have you complied with them?
- Do you meet industry standards?
- What risk remains? How many people could it affect, and how badly?
1.4 Decide what you can do to eliminate or minimise the risk (see 6).
- Ideally, you should eliminate the hazard altogether.
- Most risks can be reduced to acceptable levels with simple procedures and systems.
- Consider additional measures, which are reasonably practicable, to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. For example, warning signs or personal protective equipment.
1.5 Record the outcome of your health and safety risk assessment and any corrective action taken (see 7).
- The written record can be a useful reminder of areas you may need to keep under review.
1.6 Review your assessment periodically (eg annually).
- You will also need to amend your assessment when circumstances change (eg when you acquire new equipment).
2 Accidents waiting to happen
There are numerous places in every office, shop or factory where some sort of hazard can be identified.
2.1 Identify places where uneven floors, loose cables and spillages may cause people to trip or slip when moving around.
- Note areas where poor lighting might increase the risk from these hazards.
2.2 Look out for sharp corners and open drawers that people might walk into.
2.3 Check doors and crossings where people might collide.
- People carrying large items or pushing loaded trolleys may not be able to see where they are going.
2.4 Pay special attention to staircases and unguarded drops where people might fall.
2.5 Make a note of areas where unstable stacking or poor storage might lead to people being hit by falling objects.
- Even files falling down from a high shelf could cause serious injuries.
If an accident occurs, it must be reported and investigated.
3 Common hazards
A hazard is something that has the potential to harm or injure someone. Machinery, powertools and inflammable or corrosive materials can create specific accident hazards in the workplace.
3.1 Unsafe electrical installations (eg old or damaged wiring or overloaded sockets) can start fires or cause electric shocks.
- Electrical equipment can be particularly hazardous if it is poorly maintained or portable.
3.2 Machinery can cut or catch people, or can emit harmful substancesl, particles or fumes.
- Machines may also create unacceptable levels of noise, especially if poorly maintained.
- All moving vehicles are potentially dangerous.
- Some machinery is inherently hazardous (eg pressure boilers, lifts, lathes).
3.3 Any hazardous substances that you use or produce could be a potential cause of injury or ill health.
- Inflammable goods that are not properly stored present a fire hazard.
- Solid or liquid waste that is not properly treated or disposed of can be a health or fire hazard.
- Toxic or corrosive materials may cause poisoning or burns.
3.4 There may be special hazards resulting from the nature of your business. For example:
- Burns and scalds in catering businesses.
- Falling objects on construction sites.
- Dangerous chemicals, tools or machinery associated with your particular industry (eg solvents, presses).
Reasonably practicable steps
The law recognises it is not always practicable for an employer to remove every risk.
- If an employee has to visit a room full of noisy machinery once a month for ten minutes, providing ear muffs should be adequate.
- If an employee occasionally has to cross a busy loading bay, providing a designated marked route with warning signs should be adequate.
4 Longer-term health risks
Apart from the possibility of accidents, there are risks to your employees' health that may only build up over a period of time. These must also form part of your health and safety assessment.
4.1 Many factors in the working environment are now recognised as putting employees under physical or mental stress.
4.2 Poor design of chairs and equipment can cause musculoskeletal problems, such as lumbar pain and upper limb problems.
4.3 Bad practice and inadequate training in areas such as the manual handling of objects can lead to unnecessary injuries and back problems.
- Consider the layout of the work flow and whether storage is adequate.
4.4 There can be particular health problems for people working with computers. Ensure:
- PC screens are clear and flicker-free, and can be adjusted, and are free from glare.
- Desks and chairs are adjustable to the right height, and employees are shown how to make these adjustments (see 6.3).
- Footrests and other means of support are offered to those who need them.
- Working practices include regular breaks away from the screen and the keyboard.
4.5 Implement a smoking policy.
- Smoking is banned in almost all commercial premises and enclosed public places.
5 Existing precautions
For every hazard you have identified, decide whether your existing precautions are adequate.
5.1 Your precautions must be sufficient to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
- Your local council, the Health & Safety Executive or the Department for Communities and Local Government can advise you (see 8).
5.2 Your precautions should meet industry standards.
- Your trade association may be able to provide advice or information.
- You may want to include management of health and safety as part of a benchmarking exercise against other companies.
5.3 Ideally, your precautions will reduce risk as far as reasonably practicable.
- You are fully justified in balancing cost against risk in deciding what precautions are reasonable.
6 Improving safety
Give priority to controlling risks which could affect large numbers of people or result in serious harm to individuals.
6.1 The best option is to remove a hazard altogether.
- For example, installing improved flooring or lighting, using safer machinery or using non-flammable materials
6.2 You can control risks with suitable systems and procedures.
These might include:
- Procedures for dealing with simple hazards (eg spillages).
- Physically separating employees from hazards. For example, by setting up barriers or cordoning off certain areas of the building.
- Insisting that staff take regular rest breaks to prevent tiredness.
- Developing a sound, workable evacuation plan, in case of emergencies.
6.3 You can improve the effectiveness of procedures by providing appropriate information and training.
6.4 You can reduce risk by minimising exposure to the hazard.
- Only suitably trained employees should be allowed to operate or repair dangerous machinery.
- A 'permit-to-work' system can be used to control access to particularly dangerous situations.
6.5 Provide personal protective equipment, such as protective clothing, goggles and ear defenders as a last resort when other steps are impracticable or are insufficient on their own.
6.6 Regular safety monitoring will help to ensure that the precautions you have put in place are working.
This monitoring should include:
If you have five or more employees, you must keep detailed written records of any risk assessments carried out.
7.1 Your records must show that:
- You made a comprehensive assessment, using specialist help where appropriate.
- You have dealt with all the obvious significant hazards.
- You have put reasonable precautions in place to ensure that the remaining risk is acceptably low.
7.2 Your records can include cross-references to other documents. For example, your company's manuals and health and safety procedures.
8 Help and advice
8.1 HSE Books provides a range of free and paid-for publications (01787 881165).
8.2 You can ask for advice from the HSE, the Department for Communities and Local Government or your local council.
- The HSE and the local authority will generally work constructively with you to try to improve health and safety.
- The Department for Communities and Local Government can provide advice on fire safety and fire-risk assessments (020 7944 4400).