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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. 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 requirement 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 businesses which employ five 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 also implemented the Pregnant Workers Directive (92/85/EEC), which prescribes additional obligations for employers of pregnant employees. 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 eg:

  • heavy lifting
  • standing or sitting for long periods without proper breaks
  • exposure to any harmful substances

For further information on risk assessments for pregnant employees see the HSE website.

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

  • identify what can harm people in the workplace (eg trailing wires in offices or falls from heights in the building trade)
  • identify who might be harmed and how (eg new employees who are unfamiliar with the layout of a building site)
  • assess risks and decide on appropriate controls, taking into account any controls already in place (eg providing an induction of health and safety risks for new employees)
  • record 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)
  • review and update 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. But there are risks inherent in all industries so every business must take steps to avoid their workers coming to harm.

For further information about risk assessments, see the HSE website for England and Wales, and the Scottish branch of the HSE website and Healthy Working Lives for Scotland.

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