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Risk assessments at work

All businesses are required to carry out risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Extra checks are required in respect of any pregnant employees and this is discussed below. It's important to understand how a risk assessment should be carried out to ensure compliance and keep staff safe.
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Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This places a general duty on employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

This contains the key requirements for employers specifically to carry out risk assessments.

Both employers and self-employed people are required to assess any risks created or posed in the course of their business. Measures of avoiding or mitigating any risks should be identified and implemented in accordance with health and safety laws.

Any business which employs 5 or more workers must record the main points of their risk assessment (ie what the hazards are, who might be harmed and how and what is being done to control the risks).

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 sets out additional obligations for employers with pregnant employees. For example, implementing necessary measures to ensure that the risk of exposure to pregnant employees is avoided by temporarily adjusting the working conditions and/or the working hours of the pregnant employee.  

Once an employer has been notified that an employee is pregnant, has given birth within the past six months or is breastfeeding, the employer must take steps to identify any particular risks and produce a risk assessment that addresses measures such as:

  • heavy lifting

  • standing or sitting for long periods without proper breaks

  • exposure to any harmful substances

For more information, read the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website on risk assessments for pregnant employees. 

There is no set method of carrying out a risk assessment, as every business will face its own particular types of risks. However, general steps that can be taken include:

  • identifying what can harm people in the workplace (eg trailing wires in offices or falls from heights in the building trade)

  • identifying who might be harmed and how (eg new employees who are unfamiliar with the layout of a building site)

  • assessing risks and deciding on appropriate controls, taking into account any controls already in place (eg providing an induction of health and safety risks for new employees)

  • recording risk assessment (this is a legal requirement for businesses with five or more employees - but all businesses should consider recording their risk assessment to ensure there is an audit trail)

  • reviewing and updating risk assessments (this should be done regularly - at least once a year or any time a new type or method of working is introduced)

Employees working in high-risk sectors - particularly construction and agriculture - are at greater risk of being injured in the workplace than office workers.  There are risks inherent in all industries so every business must take steps to avoid their workers coming to harm.

For more information on risk assessments, read the HSE website for England and Wales, and for Scotland, read the HSE website and Healthy Working Lives. If you have any questions or concerns, Ask a lawyer.

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