Chelmsford TUC

In Your Workplace

The Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is not a dauntingly complicated scientific exercise. It is a simple procedure all employers are obliged to undertake to ensure a safer workplace environment for you, the employee. The assessment procedure has two principal steps:
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On this page we have information on the following:

General Information

1.Your employer should conduct an investigation to ascertain what hazards are present in your work environment. A hazard is defined as something that has the potential to cause harm to people. Risk is the probability, or degree of chance, that someone will be harmed by a hazard.

2. The employer will then determine whether there are adequate existing systems to protect people or whether there is a need to take additional measures to eliminate or mitigate the risk of the hazards that have been identified.

Every employer is required, according to the law, to conduct a risk assessment. Risk assessment is the core duty of care under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. These Regulations require all employers to:

  • Use competent staff to identify the hazards;
  • Conduct suitable and adequate assessment of the health and safety risks posed by staff work duties and any one else affected by them, so far as reasonably practicable;
  • Decide upon and implement the action that will eradicate or diminish those risks. This includes management programmes to ensure the controls are being observed.

Risk assessments should be adapted accordingly to the size and complexity of the company. How each company is to conduct these assessments should be addressed in the company safety policy. A number of regulations are targeted at specific individual hazards and stipulate risk assessment for these hazards.

These include:

  • Fire, asbestos, lead, hazardous chemicals, pathogens, noise, construction design etc.

Also, certain regulations apply to specific categories of employees who require risk assessments.

  • Young people;
  • Pregnant women and new mothers.

Risk Assessment constitutes the initial stage of a continuing process in the maintenance of a safe workplace. A credible risk assessment will:

  • Identify the hazards that exist in the workplace;
  • Evaluate the degree of risk to employees health and safety these hazards represent;
  • Assist in the setting of health and safety priorities;
  • Establish methods for reducing or removing the hazards.

A risk assessment will only be effective once the employer implements its conclusions.

The Risk Assessment in action

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that the optimum way to conduct a risk assessment is to adhere to a 5-step control plan. These steps are:

Step 1 Identify the hazards;

Step 2 Establish who could be harmed by the hazards and how these hazards might occur;

Step 3 Assess the risks these hazards present and determine whether existing safeguards are sufficient or if further action is required;

Step 4 Record the conclusions in writing, including the date the assessment was conducted;

Step 5 Re-evaluate the risk assessment periodically (do not merely wait until work patterns change), and implement any new findings.


 Your employer must address the best way to deal with hazards in the workplace;

  • This action plan can be applied to any workplace and with any hazard;

Safety representatives should ensure that their company follows this plan;

Identify the Hazard

As a Safety Representative you should notify to your employer any hazard that you identify from your inspections. The Barbour Index Risk Assessment Guide suggests that potential hazards could be divided into three distinct areas:

i. General concerns;

ii. Emergency procedures;

iii. Legislation.

i. General concerns

Equipment hazards - examples include;

  • Machinery;
  • Services (e.g. electricity, water, gas, compressed air)

Physical hazards & the work environment

  • Trips & falls;
  • Ergonomics (e.g. repetitive work, work that involves lifting);
  • Noise & vibration;
  • Extremes of temperature;
  • Radiation, including ultra violet and infra-red;
  • Temporary systems.

Manual Handling Regulations

Approximately 25% of all workplace incidents reported to the enforcing authorities relate to manual handling incidents, the majority of which result in more than 3 days absence from work. Manual Handling is dealt with in the "Manual handling operations regulations 1992" and impose upon employers the following requirements:

  • To avoid hazardous manual handling operations where possible;
  • To assess any unavoidable hazardous operations;
  • To remove or reduce the risk of injury, using an assessment as a rationale for action.

Display screen equipment

Work involving display screen equipment is now an integral part of many people’s occupations. Those so engaged for prolonged periods may well experience a range of problems such as eyestrain, musculo-skeletal conditions, or stress. By conducting proper assessments of workstations, the potential for the occurrence of these problems can be identified and remedial action implemented. Employers are responsible for performing workstation assessments and providing all relevant training, eye and eyesight tests, etc for all their employees who use such equipment.

Chemical & biological hazards

  • Hazardous substances.

There exists specific legislation in respect of hazardous substances - "Control of substances hazardous to health," the so-called ’COSHH’ regulations. The principal obligation of COSHH is that employers must not perform any work liable to expose employees to any substance hazardous to health unless a "suitable and sufficient assessment has been made of these risks, and the steps taken to meet the requirements of the regulations".

For employees, COSHH imposes the following duties:

  • To co-operate with the employer to enable compliance with regulations;
  • To make full and proper use of control measures and to notify any anomalies;
  • To attend medical examinations and disclose health information as may be reasonably required.

Human factors that may affect health and safety in the workplace

  • Disability
  • Psychological hazards (e.g. stress, long hours, shiftwork)
  • Safety awareness & attitude
  • Training

Good housekeeping in the workplace

  • General cleanliness
  • Non-slippery floors
  • Clean equipment
  • Clear pedestrian gangways
  • Spillage procedure

Waste control mechanisms to look for in pursuit of good health & safety practices

  • Internal waste control systems (e.g. paper recycling bins)
  • Segregation of types of waste
  • Control of hazardous waste
  • Record keeping

Access and egress for good health & safety practice

  • Safe access & exit from rooms
  • Observation of fire regulations
  • Safe vehicle access & exit - control of fuel emissions
  • Restricted access to hazardous areas

Safe materials handling and storage

  • Handling devices, including conveyors, fork lifts etc
  • Manual handling systems
  • Training in Manual Handling Regulations

Health & safety in road layout & traffic

  • Speed controls
  • Parking
  • Lighting
  • Maintenance of roadways
  • Dedicated routes for vehicles and pedestrians

Health & safety practice for contractors & visitors

  • Visitors book
  • Health & safety information
  • Marked fire exits
  • Introduction to the site
  • Supervision

ii. Emergency procedures to promote Health & Safety

Spillage procedures for good health & safety

  • Provision of spillage kits
  • Clean-up teams
  • Drain covers
  • Training
  • Policy

Fire Risks to consider for Health & Safety Practices

  • Ignition sources
  • Combustible materials
  • Flammable liquids
  • Risk of arson
  • Smoking policy
  • Electrical installation and appliances
  • Detection and warning
  • Smoke
  • Fire fighting
  • Means of escape
  • Drills and training

First aid criteria for good health & safety

  • Number of first aiders
  • Adequate facilities
  • Training and review
  • Planned maintenance of equipment
  • Records etc

Evacuation procedures to consider for health and safety procedures

  • Team
  • Lists
  • Assembly points
  • Plans
  • Training etc

Accident procedures to consider for good health & safety policy

  • Responsible person
  • Accident book available
  • Reporting mechanism
  • System of analysis
  • Records etc

iii. Legislation

Validity of the assessment can only be accomplished if the current status of compliance with legislation, company internal procedures etc, has been reviewed.

Eliminate the Hazard

This is the best option when rectifying hazards and should be the first strategy your employer considers because once a hazard is completely removed from the work place then its potential to cause harm no longer exists.

Control the Risk

If it proves impossible to eradicate the hazard then the next most effective method of prevention is to control the risk. According to the Barbour Index Guide to Risk Assessment, after the preferred action of elimination, the order of priority for remedial action should be:

Can the risk be reduced at source?

i. Can the employee(s) be removed from the hazardous area?

ii. Can the hazard be contained by enclosure?

iii. Can the employee’s exposure to the hazard be reduced?

iv. Can protective equipment be deployed (an interim option)

Practical examples of such measures include:

  • Deploying local exhaust ventilation to extract dust or fumes;
  • Using effective guarding to control machinery hazards;
  • Re-arranging work patterns to mitigate stress;
  • Isolating noisy work practices to control workplace noise;

 Introducing permit-to-work systems which limit access to authorised staff for specific tasks;

  • Provide appropriate training for employees, supervisors and managers;
  • Provision of personal protective equipment.

Remember that protective equipment does not eliminate or reduce the risk at source, but is only intended to protect the worker from the consequences of harm because the risk still exists. Therefore, recourse to protective equipment is the least desirable type of control and should only be deployed as a last resort or in combination with other, more effective control measures.

Should Safety Reps Carry out Risk Assessments?

The responsibility to ensure that risk assessments are conducted resides with the employer. The majority of employers will appoint a ’competent person’.

The Barbour Index Risk Assessment Guide suggests that such a person should possess relevant experience, knowledge, and training.

  • Have practical and theoretical experience of working in the location to be assessed;

 Possess the ability to make an assessment of the problem;

  • Have a recognised health and safety qualification (e.g. NEBOSH Certificate);
  • Be a member of a professional body at an appropriate level (e.g. IOSH);
  • Be an appropriately experienced consultant.

In addition, sufficient time, resources, and support must be allocated to these people to complete the task. This does not mean that employers cannot appoint a person who also happens to be a union Safety Representative. However, such an appointment should be on the grounds of experience and suitability within the company and not for the reason that they are a trade union Safety Representative.

Any Safety Representative who is appointed as a ’competent person’ must be conscious that:

  • The duties of the competent person are conducted on behalf of the employer and not the trade union. Safety Representatives have a completely separate role in the risk assessment process;
  • A competent person has certain obligations and responsibilities according to law. Union Safety Reps are absolved from any liability other than that of any employee.
  • Competent persons should be fully trained to discharge their duties;
  • If an employee is allocated health and safety duties as a competent person they should receive suitable remuneration commensurate with the increased responsibility and status;

If you are invited to become a competent person you should seek the advice of your trade union.

What is a Safety Reps’ Role?

The role of a trade union Safety Representative is to ensure that risk assessments are correctly conducted and that proper measures are in place to protect the health and safety of colleagues.


Regulation 4A of the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 states that employers must consult Safety Representatives on:

  • The introduction of any measure at the workplace that would have a substantial impact on the health and safety of the employees the Safety Representative represents;
  • The procedures for appointing competent persons;
  • All health and safety information that the employer is required to disclose to employees;
  • The planning of health and safety training;
  • The introduction, and planning of, any new technology or working methods which could affect the health and safety of employees.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 state that employers must consult Safety Representatives "in good time." This means that Safety Reps should be consulted at the initial planning and development stage of health and safety measures.

Employers are obliged to consult Safety Representatives prior to any changes, and permit them sufficient time to deliberate the issues, consult their members, and then submit a considered response.