Monday, 17 May 2010

Risk Assessment: A legal requirement and tool for the selection of PPE

If you have been reading some of our other articles, you will have seen that we regularly talk about the need for carrying out a Risk Assessment. In this article we will explain why Risk Assessments are so important and give you some pointers as to how to carry one out.

A risk assessment is a legal requirement and also provides for the effective management of health and safety within your workplace. This is to ensure that no-one gets hurt or becomes ill due to working. Illness or injury have consequences for the person, but also affects your business. Output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increased and you may have to go to court.

Even if you are self-employed and do not have employees, you still need to assess health and safety risks that may affect you and others such as fellow contractors, office staff and members of the public.

By identifying what hazards arise from your work, who may be harmed and how and what steps you need to take to protect yourself and others, you are complying with the legal requirement to assess risks and also maximising the potential of your business.

HSE inspectors have the power to enter your premises without prior notice, inspect and investigate, take measurements, samples and photographs as they see fit. They also have the power to prosecute employers who contravene the law and also serve Improvement Notices which you have 21 days to comply with and in extreme cases can issue a Prohibition Notice under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which means that the activity is closed down immediately and cannot be resumed until remedial action is taken.

A risk assessment helps you focus on the risks that really matter in your workplace; the ones with the potential to cause harm. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks, for example, ensuring spillages are cleaned up promptly so people do not slip or there are no objects in the passages that people may trip over. Most of these actions are simple, cheap and effective measures to ensure your most valuable asset; your workforce is protected.

The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk as this would probably mean that you cannot carry out your business, but you are required to protect people as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’

What is risk assessment?

It is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can decide whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm by taking reasonable control measures.

How to assess the risks in your workplace

Many people are concerned that a Risk Assessment is difficult and requires long training, in most businesses in fact it is fairly simple and requires commonsense, simply follow the five steps below

Step 1 Identify the hazards

First step is to work out how people could be harmed. Working in the same place every day it is easy to overlook some hazards; here are some suggestions of ways of identifying ones that matter:

Walk around the workplace and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause harm. Ask your employees what they think they will often have noticed things that are not immediately obvious to you.

Visit the Health and Safety Executive website Here you can find practical guidance on where hazards occur and how to control them.

If you are a member of a trade association, contact them. Many produce very helpful guidance.

Check manufacturers’ instructions or data sheets for chemicals and equipment as they can be very helpful in spelling out the hazards and putting them in their true perspective.

Analyse your accident and ill-health records these may help to identify the less obvious hazards. Remember to think about long-term hazards to health e.g. high levels of noise or exposure to harmful substances as well as immediate physical safety hazards.

Step 2 Decide who might be harmed and how

For each hazard clearly decide who might be harmed; it will help you identify the best way of managing the risk. Identify groups of people not individuals e.g. people working in the paint shop or people passing through.

For each group, identify how they might be harmed, i.e. what type of injury or ill health might occur. For example, welders may suffer eye damage from the welding arcs, or warehouse staff may risk foot damage by dropping boxes.

Remember that some workers have particular requirements, e.g. new and young workers and people with disabilities may be at particular risk. Extra thought will be needed for some hazards that may affect cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers etc, who may not be in the workplace all the time; members of the public, if they could be hurt by your activities; if you share your workplace, you will need to think about how your work affects other people present, as well as how their work affects your staff; talk to everybody who may be involved to see if they can think of anyone you may have missed.

Step 3 Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

Having identified the hazards, a decision must be made about what to do minimise them. The law requires you to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. You can work this out for yourself, comparing what you are doing with good practice.

So first, look at what you’re already doing; what controls you have in place and how the work is organised. Then compare this with the good practice using information from other companies, or using the internet and see if there other ways you should be moving yourself up to standard.

In asking yourself this, consider: Can I get rid of the hazard altogether? If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

When controlling risks, you should apply the principles below

· Try a less risky option e.g. change to using a less hazardous chemical

· Prevent access to the hazard by guarding or putting up barriers

· Issue personal protective equipment e.g. clothing, footwear, goggles helmets and gloves

· Ensure that all employees have the correct training to carry out the work safely

· Put up warning signs

· Provide welfare facilities e.g. first aid and washing facilities for removal of contamination

Step 4 Record your findings and implement them

Write down the results of your risk assessment, and share them with your staff. If you have fewer than five employees you do not under the law have to write anything down, however it is useful so that you can review it at a later date when changes have occurred as they always do.

When writing down your results keep it simple, for example; Risk of tripping over rubbish: bins provided, staff instructed, weekly housekeeping checks, or Fumes from printing: masks provided and exhaust ventilation used and regularly checked.

You need to be able to show that:

· A proper check was made

· You asked who might be affected

· You dealt with all the 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 staff or their representatives in the process

If you determine that there are many improvements that need to be made, don’t try to do everything at once. Make a plan of action to deal with the most important things first. Health and Safety Inspectors will take into account that the problems have been identified and that you are working on a plan of action to improve.

A plan of action will include a mixture of different things such as:

· a few cheap or easy improvements that can be done quickly, perhaps as a temporary solution

· long-term solutions to those risks most likely to cause accidents or ill health

· arrangements for training employees on the main risks

· what regular checks must be made

· clear responsibilities for action and the time schedule

Remember, prioritise and tackle the most important things first. As you complete each action, tick it off your plan.

Step 5 Review your risk assessment and update if necessary

Few workplaces stay the same, new equipment, substances and procedures that could lead to risks happen. It is sensible therefore, to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis. At least every year review where you are, to make sure you are still improving, or at least not sliding back.

Look at your risk assessment again

· What has changed?

· Have you implemented all the improvements identified?

· Talk to the workers to see if they have thought of anything new.

· Have you had any accidents or near misses that could have been prevented?

· Make sure your risk assessment stays up to date.

During the year, if there is a significant change, don’t wait. Check your risk assessment and, where necessary, amend it. It is good practice to think about the risk assessment when you’re planning your change this gives you flexibility and can reduce cost at a later date.

Don’t overcomplicate the process. In many organisations, the risks are well known and the necessary control measures are easy to apply. You probably already know where some of the more obvious hazards are.

If you run a small organisation and you are confident you understand what’s involved, you can do the assessment yourself. You don’t have to be a health and safety expert.

If you are unsure about what PPE is required the Granite Workwear team is able to help you select the right items; those that will adequately do the job, not necessarily the most expensive or the highest specification, but exactly what it is you require to comply with the law, but most importantly what is right for you and your business