Health and Safety, The Basics

Today we start a new series of blogs, getting to the basics of Health and Safety. Hopefully this series will give a better understanding of some of the tools and techniques used to keep people and workplaces safe.

This will hopefully give people enough of an insight for them to understand how health and safety is managed in your workplace and why.

The first blog in this series is a simple guide to risk assessment, the principles of risk assessment and not a "This is how you must carry out a risk assessment" talking to by a Health and Safety professional.

So what is a risk assessment?

The official definition is "the act of identifying possible risks, calculating how likely they are to happen and estimating what effects they might have, especially in the context of a company taking responsibility for the safety of its employees or members of the public" (Oxford Dictionary).

To do a risk assessment we need to know or gather some information.

You already know quite a bit anyway, don't you? Lets look at some basic words and meanings:

Hazard - A hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm.

Risk - The chance of that harm and how bad it can be. Risk = Severity x Likelihood

Severity - How bad the most likely impact will be.

Likelihood - The chance of it happening.

Now that we are comfortable with the above terms, we can now put them into practice. To do this we use whats called "5 steps to risk assessment"

Step 1. Identify the hazards! How could your activities, processes or substance injure or harm your employees. What non-routine activities take place? Think about the long term health effects and not just the immediate safety effects.

Step 2. Who can be harmed and how? Employees, contractors, visitors, members of the public and others. Can they fall, be struck by a vehicle, harmed by chemicals, by machinery, noise. The list is very long, this is where being competent or getting the input of competent people is important.

Step 3. Evaluate the risks. Now hazards have been identified, how likely is harm to occur? What is the level of risk and what if anything are you going to do about it. Remember not all risk need to be eliminated, risk is part of everyday life. Significant risk needs to be reduced to a tolerable level.

Step 4. Record your findings. If you have 5 employees or more then the findings need to be recorded. Communicate and manage your risks accordingly. Your risk assessment needs to suitable and sufficient.

Step 5. Monitor and review. After a period of time, following an accident or near miss. Has there been any significant changes? Have workers reported problems or are improvements still needed? Have there been any changes in legislation?

So now that we know how to risk assess, lets ask ourselves, why we do risk assessment.

  • Well firstly, it is a legal requirement. There is a misunderstanding that if you have fewer than 5 employees you do not need to carry out risk assessments. That is not true!! If you have less than 5 employees, you still have a legal obligation to carry out risk assessments, there is just no need to record it! But beware if you are one of these small businesses that do not record your risk assessments. If you happen to have an incident or accident and do happen to be investigated by a regulatory body, then you will have a devil of a time defending your case in such circumstances. ( If you have any doubt at all contact for a free consultation)

There are some exemptions from having to risk assess and these are restricted to the self-employed whose work does not have any impact or pose any risk to others.

  • Secondly, it is the right thing to do. Employers, business owners and managers all have a duty to protect their employees from harm. Most employers actually care! It is a small minority that flaunt rules and exploit their workers.

  • It also makes absolute financial sense. Whether it is to save a company from prosecution or from a compensation claim. Or to attract the best employees and indeed retain the best candidates. Our people are our best asset, we need to look after them.Business reputation is everything. A company who do the right thing by its employees and its stakeholders will build and grow.

Do you still think risk assessment and its process is difficult?

Then come and join us, ECSHE run a 1 day risk assessment training course details can be found at or contact us at

Types of risk assessment.

Risk assessments are used in various industries and and in varying ways such as Finance or manufacturing for instance, but most people align them to health and safety. So lets look at some different kinds of risk assessments in a health and safety setting.

  • Generic health and safety risk assessments. As in its title, they generalise risk and do not take into consideration other things that can influence and change your risk or create new hazards such as the environment. This type of risk assessment does have a place but in my opinion that place is as a starting point to enable a more specific risk assessments to be carried out.

  • Point Of Work Risk Assessment or POWRA. This can be used to support a generic risk assessment, going through the POWRA will help identify any hazards that may be present that was not mentioned in your generic risk assessment.

  • These, more specific risk assessments are called task specific risk assessments. These focus purely on the activity that is being undertaken and the significant risks within that workplace.

  • Dynamic risk assessment. Sometimes called a 1 minute risk assessment. The there and now. Imagine crossing a busy road, you are carrying out a dynamic risk assessment then in your head.

  • Then there are risk assessments that cover various pieces of legislation such as: Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) risk assessments, Manual Handling risk assessments, Fire risk assessments, Display Screen Equipment (DSE) risk assessment, Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere known as DSEAR risk assessment.

Just to finish with in this blog and something that I find very handy, is to know which regulatory body may be interested if you get risk assessment wrong! Do you know which regulatory body enforces health and safety in your workplace?

Governing bodies

  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - Responsible for factories, construction, farms, schools, hospital etc

  • Local authority - Shops, hotels, offices, leisure facilities, pubs and restaurants etc

  • Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) - Nuclear installations

  • Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) - Health and Safety on Railways

There are others and you may find the list in the attached link useful to see where your business sits.

I hope you you found this blog useful, look out for the next in the series. Health and Safety, The Basics.

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