Is Risk Assessment a Legal Requirement?

As a company, business, or sole trader, you want to make sure that you are on the right side of the law when it comes to following health and safety protocols, but what about risk assessments? You know risk assessments are considered a best practice, but are you required by law to conduct them?

The short answer is yes, risk assessment is a legal requirement, but it doesn’t have to be a burden! It helps to have a clearer idea of how the law applies to your context, why risk assessment is so important, and what you need to do to keep on top of things.

In this post we will explore what you need to know about risk assessment and UK law.

When is risk assessment a legal requirement?

Risk assessment is a natural part of everyday life. If something could cause damage to your business, whether by harming the people you work with, or damaging the physical property of the business itself, you need to conduct a risk assessment.

As a person responsible for health and safety in your business, it is your job to understand the activities and environment of your workplace, and assess which risks are significant enough to require control measures. While you’ll want to be mindful of all risks, it’s your legal responsibility to take action to control those that are likely to cause  harm.

You don’t have to scrutinize every minor risk in detail. Trivial risks such as papercuts in an office environement, for example, are unlikely to require a formal risk assessment.  You need to keep your eyes open for risks that present a danger to life and assets. Think about the following areas:

  • Machines
  • Equipment
  • Tools
  • Fire
  • Dangerious chemicals
  • Vehicles

Sometimes the stakes are just too high to leave things up to common sense. The law requires risk assessments to help you work out what is feasibly and practicable possible to eliminate and reduce such risks.

What does the law say about risk assessment?

Whether you’re an employer or you work on your own, UK law states that you need to carry out and conduct risk assessment practices to identify foreseeable risks in your business, and take action to prevent or minimize these risks.

  • General legal requirements: The 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) outline that employers must:
    • Assess risks to self, employees, and any other people who have contact with the workplace or work processes
    • Review any assessment over time to address any changes
    • In the case of organizations with five or more employees, keep a record of risk assessment findings, and identify people who are considered especially at risk
  • Additional laws: Depending on the nature of your work, you may also need to know about regulations that address specific hazards, for example:

You definitely need to make sure you have the MHSWR regulations covered in your risk assessment, and you also need to be aware of any additional legal requirements relating to specific hazards that might be relevant to your work context.

Risk assessment is basically a matter of knowing the law, and how it applies to you and your workplace, so that the serious matters of health and safety and never left up to chance.

How can you make sure you comply with risk assessment law?

What you need to do is go around your business frequently and carry out checks while looking for areas of concern. What are the dangers, and how you can safeguard against them?. The health and wellbeing of both you and your employees depend on it.

The law states you need to record as much detail as is appropriate to the nature and scale of risk. If there is a relatively insignificant risk, this can be left out of your assessment. For significant risks, it’s important to make sure you have a formal procedure in place:

Keep a written record:

You only have to record your risk assessments if you have five or more employees working with you, but it’s good practice in any case. If you’re visited by an HSE investigator, you’re going to need to provide records, so it’s important to have a formal process for noting down your checks, what’s been carried out, and what controls have been put into place.

You can use official HSE Word and Open Document templates, or you own documents. As long as you’ve included all the required information, this is absolutely fine.

Include relevant details and actions:

Within your risk assessment paperwork, you’ll need to include a few key details. This includes the date and time in which the assessment was carried out, who was responsible during the assessment process, the list of hazards and risks, details of affected people, and what kind of controls you’ve put into place. Show how you’ve applied a hierarchy of control to try and reduce the risk to its lowest form.

Risk reduction is really what risk assessment is all about, and that’s why you should think carefully about the controls you apply.

Communicate and your findings:

It’s all well and good carrying out risk assessments and putting controls in place, but do your employees know what these are, how to use them, and what they need to be aware of? Do you need to offer training to your staff?

That’s why everything needs to be recorded, and proof of being able to communicate these precautions with members of staff is essential.

It’s crucial to remember that reams and reams of paper isn’t going to protect people; taking action and implementing controls will. The most important aspect of risk assessment is to be safe and to prevent risks to ensure the health and wellbeing of your employees and your property. This should always be your priority when carrying out a risk assessment, not just going through the motions because you have to for legal reasons. This is why we urge everyone to be trained in Risk Assessment so the knowledge is properly cascaded and the importance of safety is highlighted.

As you can see, common sense and awareness are key when it comes to carrying out risk assessments as well as ensuring it all fits in with the law. You are entirely within your rights to carry out these checks yourself, but if you do need assistance in making sure your business is operating legally, there are services that can help.

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