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Quick guide to risk assessments

At a glance

  • All employers, and those who are self-employed, are under a legal duty to conduct risk assessments (RAs)
  • Recent Supreme Court litigation has highlighted the importance of carrying out RAs and implementing proper controls
  • Brokers should include questions about RAs in their annual reviews to help customers ensure they are safeguarding themselves against future liability claims

Risk assessments (RAs) are an essential tool in helping businesses to understand the dangers of their working practices, and take appropriate actions to satisfy their legal duties.

As recent Supreme Court litigation has highlighted, conducting RAs is a legal requirement for businesses of all sizes, and forms a crucial piece of evidence when defending liability claims.

It is therefore important that customers understand how to conduct RAs, and that brokers can offer assistance where needed.

We explain why RAs are increasingly important, and how you can help your customers approach them correctly.

Duty to conduct risk assessments

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 places a specific duty on employers to undertake RAs.

Section 3 of the Regulations requires that every employer – including the self-employed –undertakes a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, and then places it under continual review.

Employers with five or more employees must also record the significant findings of their RAs.

5 steps to risk assessment

While they can seem daunting, RAs actually follow a very straightforward five-step methodology. You can use these steps in discussions with your business customers of all sizes:

1. Identify potential hazards


Look around the workplace and at all of the business’s activities and identify anything that could cause harm

2. Determine who might be harmed and how

Consider all of the ways a potential hazard could cause harm, and to whom. This includes employees, visitors, contractors and the general public – anybody who might come into contact with the business’s activities.

3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

Consider the likelihood of each situation, and how severe the harm could be.

Look at existing precautions and consider what else you could do to control the risk – the more likely or severe the risk, the greater the precautions you will be expected to take.

To determine whether existing precautions are reasonable, look for information that can act as benchmarks – for example, manufacturers’ instructions and industry standards.

4. Record your findings and take action

Businesses with five or more employees must record their significant findings. This includes: hazards, who might be harmed and how, severity and likelihood, existing precautions, and whether there is more that could be done.

There are lots of possible formats for recording RAs, which customers can easily find online. Businesses may alternatively choose to purchase software packages from specialist providers that can assist with the management of RAs.

5. Continually review and update

RAs are working documents that must be continually reviewed, both periodically and in response to any changes.

Changes in work activities, new legislation or an accident should all prompt RAs to be reviewed.

If no changes occur, then RAs should still be reviewed periodically – ideally, at least annually, and more frequently for more hazardous tasks or operations.

Who should conduct RAs?

It is a legal requirement that a competent person should conduct RAs – that is, a person with the right knowledge, experience and, where relevant, the right qualifications.

They will need to have a thorough knowledge of the business’s operations, the risks they pose and how to control those risks.

“For office risks, i.e. Display Screen Equipment (if a workstation is not set up properly or the environment is not adequate), someone who has received appropriate training is likely to be sufficient,” says Steve Hopkins, Risk Consultant at Zurich Risk Engineering. “However, if the business uses hazardous or flammable chemicals, for example, then that will require a person with a higher level of knowledge and in some cases appropriately qualified to be regarded as competent.”

Supreme Court highlights importance of RAs

What controls will be sufficient?

You need to reduce risks as far as is reasonably practicable.

The level of control measures to satisfy this duty will vary depending on the situation.

Working at height example

For a low-risk, short duration activity, such as climbing a ladder, a suitable control measure may be as follows:

  • Give employees instruction on how to use ladders and any associated equipment
  • Have them demonstrate competence in using this equipment safely

However, a higher risk activity requiring a greater level of competence, such as building a scaffold, will require additional controls, for example:

  • Requiring a plan to always be drawn prior to assembly
  • Employees to provide evidence of industry-recognised training in the assembly of scaffold

In February 2016, the UK’s Supreme Court issued a judgement that stressed the importance of thorough RAs, and especially the need to implement appropriate control measures in response to any findings.

In this case, a Glasgow care worker slipped on ice while visiting a terminally ill client. She injured her wrist, and brought a claim against her employer.

The employer had in fact identified this risk in its RA and chosen to recommend that employees wear suitable footwear. However, the court held that this measure was insufficient under the circumstances, and that it would have been reasonable to provide employees with non-slip footwear attachments.

“This is a landmark case,” says Steve. “It sends a strong message as to what will be considered a suitable and sufficient RA.

“The employer’s RA was central to the court’s reasoning, and I suspect future claims may be scrutinised in the same manner.”

Wider benefits of conducting RAs

Conducting RAs is not simply about legal compliance, but is essential to the effective running of a business.

“RAs are the cornerstone to effective health and safety management,” says Steve. “Going through the RA process will also help a business better understand its operations, foster a positive working environment, and help to defend against future claims and the huge financial and reputational damage they can cause.”

How you can help your customers

With RAs such a fundamental part to running a modern business – comparable to keeping good financial accounts – you should look to incorporate questions about RAs into your annual reviews with customers.

“This does not require brokers to go into huge detail about specific risks and control measures,” says Steve. “Instead, it is about making sure customers are following the correct procedure, implementing controls, keeping adequate records and constantly reviewing them. It is about promoting RAs as a fundamental part of every customer’s risk management efforts.”

For more information on how you can help your customers strengthen their risk management strategies, please explore the range of services offered by Zurich Risk Engineering or speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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