Last Updated on:
The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 is a foundational legal framework for ensuring the safety of employees and visitors in the workplace, and one which heralded a new age for workers’ rights and for effective operational management. Health and safety processes are myriad, addressing each point of contact by eliminating, mitigating or intervening in hazards. Risk assessments, though, are the origin point from which changes are effected. Just how important is risk assessment to businesses?
For those unfamiliar with the form of best-practice health and safety systems, a risk assessment is an exploratory process wherein managers and responsible parties for a given location or workplace identify the extant hazards presented by said environment.
They are a crucial element to effectively addressing the risks that employees and visitors alike face when engaging with a business and its premises – not only with respect to discovering these risks, but also to apportioning responsibility and accountability for the addressing of these risks. A good risk assessment ensures comprehensive investigation, and comprehensive delegation of responsibility for enacting appropriate measures.
Risk assessments generally – at least, in part – take the form of a comprehensive on-site tour of the premises. Department leaders, site supervisors, designated health and safety officers and any other relevant parties engage in a walk-around, in order to visually identify potential risks to workers and visitors.
Observations and other information are recorded in a tabular format. Rows are dedicated to specific hazards, while columns dedicated to specific information about each hazard, the proposed measures to eliminate or mitigate it and the person responsible for overseeing the completion of said measures.
Risk assessments are vital components of business health and safety programmes – primarily for their part in reducing workplace injuries. Assessing risks enables a business to equitably address them, decreasing the risk of harm to employees or visitors, and hence lowering costs associated to such eventualities. Not only can injured employees result in costly downtime for the business, but also civil claims for damages relating to personal injury. These costs are compounded where poor health and safety planning is a complicating factor.
Nothing, though, trumps the ethical responsibility an employer has to the health, safety and wellbeing of those in their care. Health and safety laws are there simply to enshrine these ethical boundaries in a legal framework; a business should place health and safety at the forefront of their operations regardless.
Even in industries where risks to employees or visitors are low – as with administrative or creative businesses situated in office environments – the existence of a risk assessment can be a powerful failsafe. Risk assessments ensure hazardous environments do not present in future, and can also instil a sense of trust in employees and visitors alike (with obvious cost benefits).