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December 5, 2016

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Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment template and guide

Risk assessments are an essential part of any business planning process. Most work carries a risk of potential harm and injury and therefore employers must consider what should be actively done to control it.

Companies with five employees or more are legally obliged to conducting a risk assessment.

It is not possible to control all risks – work would be impossible under these conditions. However, the risk of injury and damage should be controlled to ‘reasonable and ‘acceptable’ levels and it is the aim of risk assessment to achieve this.

Risk assessment is not an end in itself  but is rather a means of managing risk. Many managers fail to appreciate this and invest far too much time in developing pristine documents to keep on a shelf in the hopes of impressing a visiting inspector or auditor!

Risk assessments should review all of the activities of the business and the places of work and identify the hazards arising.

The people at risk should be identified along with existing risk control measures. Then following an evaluation against the standards to be met, any required improvements should be identified along with timescale and responsibilities for implementation

The process of risk assessment requires you to think about who could be harmed in your workplace, how they could be harmed, and what reasonable steps you can take to prevent that harm.

Whether to comply with the law, or to help protect your company against civil claim, the risk assessment process is a fundamental element of your health and safety management system.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 every employer must assess the risk to employees whilst at work and those affected by his undertaking e.g. customers, contractors and visitors.

  • hazard is anything that may cause harm e.g. chemicals, electricity, falling from ladders, being hit by a reversing vehicle etc.
  • The riskis the likelihood (high or low) that somebody could be harmed by the hazard and the severity of outcome.

 The HSE’s five steps to risk assessment:

  1. Identify the hazards: Walk around your workplace, consult your staff and look at accident records. Consider both routine and non-routine practices, including cleaning and maintenance.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how: Consider any person who enters your workplace (including any external areas like parking). Those who may be harmed typically include staff, customers, visitors, contractors (e.g. maintenance and cleaning staff). Consider that pregnant or nursing mothers, young workers, and migrant workers have particular requirements.
  3. Evaluate the risk and decide on precautions: Focus first on higher risk areas – those hazards that can result in the most severe injuries (e.g. falling from height when cleaning gutters/changing lightbulbs) and those more likely to cause injury (e.g. slips and trips).

Can the hazard be eliminated? If not, how can the risk be reduced?

Precautions (control measures) need to be implemented taking into account ‘reasonable’ expenditure, time, trouble, and what is considered normal industry practice.  Employee involvement or external health and safety advice may help to determine the most appropriate and practical control measures.

  1. Record: The risk assessment must be recorded unless you have fewer than five employees. Health and safety inspectors and insurers will request sight of your risk assessments so these need to be readily available.
  2. Review: Risk assessments should be reviewed typically annually or in event of changes in business operations, layout or equipment etc.

Risk Assessment Guide

Download the full risk assessment technical guide  from Barbour EHS for practical and comprehensive information on Risk Assessments.  Topics covered include:

  • Understanding risk assessments
  • Legal requirements
  • What a risk assessment involves
  • Undertaking a risk assessment
  • Identifying the hazards
  • Evaluating the level of risk
  • Key actions

Evaluating risk

When it comes to evaluating the level of risk, Risk (R) is the combination of the likelihood of the hazardous event occuring (L) and the severity or degree of harm (S). i.e. L x S = R.

Determining the level of risk therefore requires the assessor to estimate the likelihood of the event taking place and the nature of the harm taking into account risk factors and past experience.

The risk rating can be used at several points during the risk assessment. Some companies choose to assess the level of risk arising from the hazard imagining that there are no risk control measures in place, and to then reassess after proscribing risk control measures. Others only assess the degree of risk after all risk control measures have been considered, including new ones not yet implemented. Either approach is acceptable.

Risk evaluation matrix

There are a large number of means of evaluating risk numerically but in general the end results should enable a person to understand priorities easily, so a three level of five level system is usually the maximum required in the majority of workplaces. e.g. the outcome might give a measure of Low, Medium or High risk.

Here is an example of three by three matrix, i.e. three levels of likelihood and three levels of severity:


  1. Low: the event is unlikely to happen or certainly would occur very infrequently
  2. Medium: the event is expected to occur on a less regular basis, but is still recognised as a problem by the team
  3. High: an event is expected to occur on a regular basis, for example once a month or so regularly that it is perceived to be a problem

Estimates of Consequences or Harm

Harm can range from death, major or minor physical injuries, disease, genetic defects, mental injuries, to social trauma.

Possible definitions for consequences being low, medium or high are as follows:

Nature of Harm to People

  1. Low: Outcome up to (and including) administration of first aid
  2. Medium: Hospital visits and/or absence for up to three days
  3. High: Death or major injury/accident resulting in over three days absence from work.

Assessors use the 3×3 grid of ‘nature of harm Vs likelihood of harm’ to provide an estimate of the degrees of risk:

Risk Assessment image 2

Another way of looking at this is to simply multiply the numbers:

Risk Assessment image 1

In this approach scores of 1-2 = low risk, 3-4 = moderate and 6-9 = high

This process is based on the judgement of the assessor using their knowledge, any information (including accident data) and observations of the workplace. Part of the consideration must also include the ‘exposure factor’ which reflects the number of people exposed, and the length of time they may be exposed.

Download the full guide here

Further reading

Risk Assessment articles

Access an extensive range of Taylor & Francis published resources, so you can learn more about how to create a safe and healthy work environment with SHP Online’s exclusive health & safety bookshop.

These books cover the latest health and safety knowledge, best practice, and important moral, legal, and financial issues pertaining to a safety manager’s job.

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Paulo G. C. Araujo
Paulo G. C. Araujo

Hello everyone, I’m looking for the HRN’s original publication from early 1990s. Could you help me with it?

Paulo G. C. Araujo
Paulo G. C. Araujo

Thank you in advance for any help.