The importance of understanding workplace risk

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As Health & Safety and Climate & Environment area lead for the North, Mike has extensive experience in a range of industries including manufacturing, construction, utilities and property management over an eighteen year period. Having worked in-company as well as in consultancy roles, he is experienced at implementing and running management systems to BS EN ISO 9001, BS EN ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001. This has recently led to Mike becoming EEF’s representative at the British Standards Institute on the committee, working on the development of ISO 45001, the ISO replacement for BS OHSAS 18001. Experienced in construction related issues from a client, consultant and contractor perspective, Mike has helped organisations from the shop floor up to executive levels.

Let’s be blunt about things – health and safety in the workplace isn’t a ‘nice to have’ it’s a fundamental, legal requirement for all employers.  Everyone has the right to work in an environment that’s safe for them and the people around them, whether that’s their colleagues, customers or the general public.  The fact that you have a legal responsibility to the people around you however, doesn’t mean that understanding and doing something about the risks in your workplace is an over-bearing or terrible task.

Employers are required to assess all work activities that could cause harm in an attempt to either remove that risk of harm or make the risk as small as possible.  Most legislation that relates to health and safety requires employers to reduce risks ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ which means that you need to balance the cost (which includes time, effort and trouble) incurred in taking steps to reduce a risk against the degree of risk presented.  So, there’s no need for steel gauntlets next to the printers in case of papercuts – it’s just not practical. 

What this means is that you should have in place a workplace Risk Assessment that sets out the different things that your staff are required to do and plans how those tasks can be made safer.  Risk Assessments are an essential activity for all organisations. If you don’t know, or understand where your organisations’ risks are, you are putting your employees, your customers and your organisation at risk. Assessments must consider everyone who could be affected by the organisation, not just its employees, organisation must think about others such as contractors, temporary workers and the general public.

Some groups are considered to be potentially more vulnerable, such as young people, new and expectant mothers, women of child bearing age, as well as people with disabilities.

A Risk Assessment need not be a complicated thing, in fact, in many ways the simpler the process, the better.  Most people know what risks their employees face and they are already taking some of the necessary steps to reduce risks and work safely.  If you know that your staff are asked to lift heavy boxes, then there is a risk that they could hurt their backs, so you make sure that you’ve shown them how to lift and avoid hurting themselves.
You can identify the risks in your workplace in five simple steps:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precaution
  4. Record your findings and implement them
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

There are many simple templates online that can help you document your health and safety policy, you just have to make sure that it’s implemented and followed through. 

EEF Training provide a range of simple Health and Safety Training courses and qualifications that can help you understand how to create and put together a Workplace Risk Assessment.  Our Risk Assessment course is designed to help people who are new to Health and Safety planning to gain the skills they need to create effective Risk Assessments. For other areas of Health and Safety, the COSHH Made Simple course will give you a grounding in all of the main Health and Safety statutory requirements and teaches practical ways to carry out COSHH assessments and implement control measures.

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Health, Safety, Climate and Environment Area Lead

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