Alan F Cox

Fire and Safety Consultants


Managing health and safety is an integral part of managing your business. You need to do a risk assessment to find out about the risks in your workplace, put sensible measures in place to control them, and make sure they stay controlled.

Planning is the key to ensuring your health and safety arrangements really work. It helps you think through the actions you have set out in your policy and work out how they will happen in practice. Consider:

            • what you want to achieve, eg how you will ensure that your employees and others are kept healthy and safe at work

          • how you will decide what might cause harm to people and whether you are doing enough or need to do more to prevent that harm

          • how you will prioritise the improvements you may need to make

          • who will be responsible for health and safety tasks, what they should do, when and with what results

          • how you will measure and review whether you have achieved what you set out to do

The law

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (the HSW Act), you have to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of yourself and others who may be affected by what you do or do not do. It applies to all work activities and premises and everyone at work has responsibilities under it, including the self-employed.

This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

Employees must take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. They must also co-operate with employers and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also apply to every work activity and workplace and require all risks to be assessed and, where necessary, controlled.

Health and Safety Policy

Your business must have a health and safety policy, and if you have five or more employees, that policy must be written down.

Most businesses set out their policy in three sections:

          • The statement of general policy on health and safety at work sets out your commitment to managing health and safety effectively, and         what you want to achieve

          • The responsibility section sets out who is responsible for specific actions

          • The arrangements section contains the detail of what you are going to do in practice to achieve the aims set out in your statement of health and safety policy

The arrangements section should say how you will meet the commitments you have made in your statement of health and safety policy. Include information on how you are going to eliminate or reduce the risks of hazards in your workplace.

What do we mean by 'hazard' and 'risk'?

A hazard is something in your business that could cause harm to people, such as chemicals, electricity and working at height. A risk is the chance – however large or small – that a hazard could cause harm.

Additional arrangements

The additional actions you take to manage health and safety should be set out in the arrangements section of your policy. They could include:

          • staff training

          • using signs to highlight risks

          • improved safety equipment, such as guards or additional personal protective equipment, including goggles, safety boots or high-visibility • clothing 

          • replacing hazardous chemicals with less harmful alternatives  

          • improved lighting

          • anti-slip flooring

Focus your attention on the activities that could present a risk to people or cause serious harm.

Managing Health and Safety

As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are doing enough to prevent that.

This process is known as risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down.

Risk assessment is about identifying and taking sensible and proportionate measures to control the risks in your workplace, not about creating huge amounts of paperwork.

You are probably already taking steps to protect your employees, but your risk assessment will help you decide whether you should be doing more.

Think about how accidents and ill health could happen and concentrate on real risks – those that are most likely and which will cause the most harm.

For some risks, other regulations require particular control measures. Your assessment can help you identify where you need to look at certain risks and these particular control measures in more detail. These control measures do not have to be assessed separately but can be considered as part of, or an extension of, your overall risk assessment.

Identify the hazards

One of the most important aspects of your risk assessment is accurately identifying the potential hazards in your workplace.

A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and think about any hazards. In other words, what is it about the activities, processes or substances used that could injure your employees or harm their health?

When you work in a place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards, so here are some tips to help you identify the ones that matter:

          • Check manufacturers' instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in explaining the hazards and putting them in their true perspective

          • Look back at your accident and ill-health records – these often help to identify the less obvious hazards

          • Take account of non-routine operations (eg maintenance, cleaning operations or changes in production cycles)

          • Remember to think about long-term hazards to health (eg high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances)

There are some hazards with a recognised risk of harm, for example working at height, working with chemicals, machinery, and asbestos. Depending on the type of work you do, there may be other hazards that are relevant to your business.

Who might be harmed?

Then think how employees (or others who may be present such as contractors or visitors) might be harmed. Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.

For each hazard you need to be clear about who might be harmed – it will help you identify the best way of controlling the risk. That doesn't mean listing everyone by name, but rather identifying groups of people (eg 'people working in the storeroom' or 'passers-by'). Remember:

          Some workers may have particular requirements, for example new and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, people with disabilities, temporary workers, contractors, homeworkers and lone workers.

          Think about people who might not be in the workplace all the time, such as visitors, contractors and maintenance workers

          Take members of the public into account if they could be harmed by your work activities

          If you share a workplace with another business, consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you and your workers. Talk to each other and make sure controls are in place

          Ask your workers if there is anyone you may have missed

Evaluate the risks

Having identified the hazards, you then have to decide how likely it is that harm will occur, ie the level of risk and what to do about it. Risk is a part of everyday life and you are not expected to eliminate all risks. What you must do is make sure you know about the main risks and the things you need to do to manage them responsibly. Generally, you need to do everything 'reasonably practicable

This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

' to protect people from harm.

Your risk assessment should only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.

Look at what you're already doing and the control measures you already have in place. Ask yourself:

          Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?

          If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

Some practical steps you could take include:

          trying a less risky option

          preventing access to the hazards

          organising your work to reduce exposure to the hazard

          issuing protective equipment

          providing welfare facilities such as first-aid and washing facilities

          involving and consulting with workers

Improving health and safety need not cost a lot. For instance, placing a mirror on a blind corner to help prevent vehicle accidents is a low-cost precaution considering the risks. Failure to take simple precautions can cost you a lot more if an accident does happen.

Involve your workers so you can be sure that what you propose to do will work in practice and won't introduce any new hazards.

If you control a number of similar workplaces containing similar activities, you can produce a 'model' risk assessment reflecting the common hazards and risks associated with these activities.

You may also come across 'model' assessments developed by trade associations, employers' bodies or other organisations concerned with a particular activity. You may decide to apply these 'model' assessments at each workplace, but you can only do so if you:

          satisfy yourself that the 'model' assessment is appropriate to your type of work

          adapt the 'model' to the detail of your own work situations, including any extension necessary to cover hazards and risks not referred to in the 'model'

Record your findings

Make a record of your significant findings – the hazards, how people might be harmed by them and what you have in place to control the risks. Any record produced should be simple and focused on controls.

If you have fewer than five employees you don't have to write anything down. But it is useful to do this so you can review it at a later date, for example if something changes. If you have five or more employees you are required by law to write it down.

Any paperwork you produce should help you to communicate and manage the risks in your business. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.

When writing down your results keep it simple, for example 'fume from welding – local exhaust ventilation used and regularly checked'.

A risk assessment must be 'suitable and sufficient', ie it should show that:

          a proper check was made

          you asked who might be affected

          you dealt with all the obvious significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved

          the precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low

          you involved your employees or their representatives in the process

Where the nature of your work changes fairly frequently or the workplace changes and develops (eg a construction site), or where your workers move from site to site, your risk assessment may have to concentrate more on a broad range of risks that can be anticipated.

If your risk assessment identifies a number of hazards, you need to put them in order of importance and address the most serious risks first.

Identify long-term solutions for the risks with the biggest consequences, as well as those risks most likely to cause accidents or ill health. You should also establish whether there are improvements that can be implemented quickly, even temporarily, until more reliable controls can be put in place.

Remember, the greater the hazard the more robust and reliable the measures to control the risk of an injury occurring need to be.

Regularly review your risk assessment

Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to new hazards. So it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis, look at your risk assessment again and ask yourself:

          Have there been any significant changes?

          Are there improvements you still need to make?

          Have your workers spotted a problem?

          Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.