Risk assessments are not often seen as a major priority for some businesses. It can feel pointless spending too much time and energy on an exercise that feels purely hypothetical – until, of course, something unexpected actually does happen. The truth is that properly planning for any eventuality to protect the health and safety of your staff and customers is completely non-negotiable, and failing to take risk assessment seriously could not only have serious health consequences, but could also damage your company’s bottom line.
The first myth about good risk assessment practice is that it’s enough to simply fill in a form and then file it away somewhere and forget about it. The world – and your business – is constantly changing, and it follows that the associated risks change as well. The onus is on any business owner to keep risk assessments current by revising them regularly. Here are some ideas for how to stay on top of things.
It’s all about taking responsibility and using a risk assessment as a valuable tool rather than a set of boxes to tick. Complacency defeats the purpose. Risk assessment experts at ACT explain that, “even if you think you know what all the risks might be, and even if you have done the same task a number of times before, […] the people who come into your business might change over time, and the hazards might be more of an issue, for example.”
In effect, risk assessments ‘expire’ and need to be regularly refreshed to reflect the current business environment.
Going beyond the bare minimum
The Health and Safety Executive in the UK has identified the minimum safety requirements needed to manage risk at work. It is a legal requirement to protect your staff and customers, but a risk assessment is just a single part of this process. While it’s true that some small businesses are lower risk than others, at a minimum every business needs to:
- Identify the hazards in the workplace (i.e. anything that could potentially cause harm)
- Assess the risk (i.e. assign a likelihood of the hazard causing harm, as well as the severity of that harm should it occur)
- Control the risk (i.e. take active measures to mitigate the risk associated with that hazard, or remove it entirely)
Depending on the hazards involved, further steps might include recording your findings and reviewing the actions taken to determine their effectiveness at actually reducing risk. Though it might seem unnecessary to evaluate every possible hazard this way, in fact, the process of an assessment itself may reveal some previously overlooked areas of concern. This is especially true when updating the assessment; as hazards and likelihoods of harm evolve, you are prepared to respond accordingly.
Risk assessments need to be reviewed regularly
Every business needs a clear and established routine for the maintenance of their risk assessment. Realistic deadlines should be set throughout the year and some time dedicated to updating the information in the assessment. However, this is simply a pre-emptive step, and updates (indeed, improvements) can certainly be made more frequently.
It’s an excellent opportunity to revisit your risk assessment when new staff are hired, when there are changes to the premises or general procedures, or when a new product is introduced, for example. Even a small change in a chemical used can warrant a complete rethink of an old risk-management procedure. Environment and context need to be factored in and prepared for, as do things like the weather or, as 2020 has shown us, a pandemic.
A risk assessment is a business tool
It takes insight and knowledge to create a risk assessment that accurately reflects your unique business. Just as you needed to carefully consider many factors when compiling a business plan, so too will you need to think carefully about assessing risk. Truly understanding the risks a company is exposed to is as important as knowing the ins and outs of the business, its target market, and its unique strengths.
Understanding and working with risk is about more than passively compiling a checklist; rather, it’s about thoroughly understanding your business. The idea is not just to protect it but also to make sure it’s able to achieve its full potential. This enhanced business awareness keeps you up to date with relevant legislature, ensures you’re offering your staff a safe and comfortable work experience, and keeps you abreast of ever-changing trends and policies that affect you and your clients.
‘Health and Safety E-Learning’, ACT, https://www.actassociates.co.uk/courses/e-learning-2/
‘Managing risks and risk assessment at work’, Health and Safety Executive, https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm?utm_source=hse.gov.uk&utm_medium=refferal&utm_campaign=risk&utm_content=home-page-info
‘Risk assessments: what they are, why they’re important and how to complete them’, British Safety Council, https://www.britsafe.org/training-and-learning/find-the-right-course-for-you/informational-resources/risk-assessment/
‘How often should a risk assessment take place?’ WorkSmart, https://worksmart.org.uk/health-advice/health-and-safety/hazards-and-risks/how-often-should-risk-assessment-take-place
‘Risk assessment: a guide for safety representatives’, TUC, https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/extras/riskassessment.pdf