What are the five steps in risk assessment?

Posted on July 21, 2022
Posted by Marion Kennedy

Document ImageThe five steps in risk assessment are identifying hazards in the workplace, identifying who might be harmed by the hazards, taking all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the risks, recording your findings, and reviewing and updating your risk assessment regularly. 

We’ve explained how to carry out the five steps in risk assessment below. You can find further guidance on carrying out risk assessments for new and expectant mothers and/or remote workers in our recent blogs.

1. Identifying hazards in your workplace

The first of the five steps in risk assessment is identifying hazards. You must identify things in your workplace which pose a risk to the health and safety of staff or visitors. Walk around your premises to consider what could potentially cause a hazard, and consult with your staff about what they think the risks are. It may also assist to check your accident book to see if there have been any problems. 

A hazard can be anything that may cause harm. Hazards might be obvious (industrial machinery, dangerous chemicals) or more everyday occurrences (a low doorway, trailing cables on the ground). Don’t forget to consider the risk of psychological injuries (like stress and isolation) as well as physical ones. 

Be thorough when looking for hazards, but note you are only expected to anticipate risks which are reasonably foreseeable, meaning you don’t have to predict every possible hazard. When you are performing your general risk assessment, you should look out for risks such as:

  1. slip and trip hazards like deliveries not put away, loose flooring, spills etc;
  2. electrical equipment;
  3. fire hazards (see Fire safety risk assessment);
  4. risks associated with manual handling or lifting;
  5. environmental issues, such as ventilation, temperature or noise levels;
  6. general maintenance risks, such as damaged or defective equipment, storage, cleaning supplies and the presence of vermin or pests;
  7. risks associated with workstations;
  8. working at height, or objects falling from height;
  9. risks caused by visitors to your workplace, including as a result of violence or verbal abuse; and
  10. lone working.

This list is not exhaustive – you must keep an open mind to any risks specific to your industry and premises. You can use General risk assessment for an office, General risk assessment for a shop or other business open to customers, and General risk assessment for remote workers to help you identify the hazards in your workplace.

2. Identifying who might be at risk

The second of the five steps in risk assessment is identifying who might be at risk from the hazards you have identified and how they might be harmed. Don’t forget to consider members of the public and anyone who might come to your workplace.

If you have five or more employees, you must identify any particular group of staff whose health and safety is at risk due to the work that they do. For example, warehouse workers might be particularly at risk of falls from height or things falling on them, whereas your office staff are more likely to be affected by poorly arranged workstations.

Additionally, sometimes a group of people will be at risk due to a shared characteristic, rather than the nature of their roles, eg pregnant women or young people. For example, if you employ any women of child-bearing age, and the nature of the work could involve a particular risk to a new or expectant mother or her baby, you must take those risks into account in your general risk assessment. See our blog on carrying out risk assessments for pregnant women and new mothers for further guidance.

3. Taking steps to reduce or remove the risks

As part of your risk assessment, you must decide what to do about the hazards and risks you uncover, and actually take action to deal with them. 

You must get rid of any hazards that you can, and try to reduce the risks posed by any that you cannot remove.

Our template risk assessments set out a variety of suggested ways you might be able to address common hazards. For other hazards, or if the suggested measures will not work in your particular circumstances, consider whether some of the following general practical measures will help: 

  1. restricting or preventing access any hazards, or changing your systems to reduce exposure to them;
  2. changing the design or layout of your workplace;
  3. providing different or better work equipment, including any protective equipment;
  4. a better premises and/or equipment maintenance regime (you are legally required to keep them both in good repair);
  5. providing better staff training and clear policies (see When to give health and safety training and Writing a health and safety policy); or
  6. providing better welfare facilities, eg for washing or rest breaks (see Hygiene and welfare).

4. Keeping written records

If you employ five or more people, you are legally required to keep written records of your risk assessments. If you have fewer than five employees, you do not have to write anything down (although you must still do risk assessments). However, it’s a good idea to always record your risk assessments in writing so that you can refer back to them if needed.  See our blog on how long to keep risk assessment records for further guidance.  

5. Reviewing your risk assessment

You should perform a general risk assessment as soon as you become an employer.

You are then legally required to review and renew your general risk assessment if it is no longer valid for some reason, or there have been significant changes to anything that it covers. For example, if you move or renovate your premises, you buy a new piece of hazardous equipment or your staff report a problem. 

As your business and workforce will inevitably change over time, you should regularly review and update your risk assessment regularly. An annual review is usually sensible for most businesses. 

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