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Understanding Risk Assessments

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A risk assessment is typically a document which helps you prevent potential harm to others or yourself while you’re working. In completing a risk assessment, you will be able to figure out where the hazards of your work lie, which means that you can take the appropriate precautions when carrying out your tasks.

Risk assessments are used in all manner of workplaces. A risk assessment will become a familiar document to every working professional, as they are crucial to ensuring that all workers can stay safe while at work. A risk assessment is the only sure, documented way to keep track of any potential risk in the workplace, who is involved, and what measures have been taken to prevent those risks.

The assessment should be completed before any potentially hazardous or unsafe work is carried out. There are five steps to any risk assessment:

Step 1: Identify potential hazards

Employers must assess any and all health and safety risks posed to their workers. A hazard can be physical, mental, chemical and biological.

Physical hazards are potentially dangerous actions that could cause injury, such as lifting heavy loads, incorrect postures, slips, trips, falls, and even machinery being in a hazardous place which could cause physical injury to someone if they weren’t aware of its presence.

A mental hazard could happen from an individual working long hours, having too much work, being bullied at work, or working with high-need individuals. Mental hazards can cause stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Chemical hazards can be found around the workplace, even if that workplace doesn’t use chemicals day-to-day. Asbestos is a serious example, but cleaning products like bleach would also count. Chemical: e.g. asbestos, cleaning fluids, aerosols, etc.

Finally, biological hazards are caused by diseases being spread in the workplace; this includes infectious diseases. Healthcare professionals are typically the most at risk of a biological hazard.

Step 2: Who could be harmed and how

The next step in your risk assessment is to identify who in your workplace is at risk, and how the activity that is being carried out (the activity you’re completing the risk assessment for) could hard those individuals. This should include workers, clients, visitors, and members of the public if the building is openly accessible.

Wherever the activity is taking place, the location and people need to be taken into account on the risk assessment.

Step 3: Assess the risks

In step 3 of the risk assessment, the individual completing the assessment should consider how likely each hazard is to cause harm, and whether actions should be taken to reduce the level of risk for each hazard.

Step 4: Your findings

The record of your findings provides proof that a risk assessment was carried out. Remember that a risk assessment is a working document and should be available to edit.

Step 5: Review

A risk assessment should be kept and reviewed regularly. This ensures that the agreed safe working practices are still being upheld, and that any new working practices or new elements to the activity are recorded.

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