Why is it important to assess health and safety risks?
Whether you are self-employed or you run a business, regardless of its size, you are legally required to carry out risk assessments at work. Non-compliance can lead to large fines and in case of an accident where someone has been harmed – even imprisonment. But why is it important to assess health and safety risks at work?
There are two reasons for the importance of workplace risk assessments: they are not only your legal responsibility but they can also save lives and prevent serious harm to the people who enter your work premises. Let’s take a look at all the ways H&S risk assessments can impact you and your business!
Top 5 Reasons Why Risk Assessments Are Important
It’s the law!
Plain and simple, if you are not conducting risk assessments at work, you are breaking the law. Ensuring that “suitable and sufficient” risk assessments are conducted is a mandatory requirement under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999. If your business has five or more employees, you are also legally required to keep a detailed record of all risk assessments conducted at work.
In addition to that, industry-specific legislation dictates that your risk assessment should cover specific risks related to the nature of your work. For example, if your work involves handling hazardous substances, you need to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations and if your workers are exposed to vibrations you have to take into account The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations. This is also applicable to the corporate environment where the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations apply.
Risk assessments ensure that no one gets hurt at work
The reason why risk assessments are considered important enough to be so rigorously required by the law is that they are designed to keep people safe. Every workplace has its risks. Sometimes, those risks are more obvious than others. For example, if you work at heights there’s the danger of falling, if you work with heavy machinery, there’s the danger of harm due to a machine failure and if your work involves lifting heavy loads, you could develop serious back issues. In other environments, the risks are less visible. Take office work, for example. Sitting in front of a computer all day long may not seem that dangerous but it can cause a number of health problems including eyesight deterioration, migraines, chronic fatigue, as well as back pain. Dangers can be hidden in the smallest things, such as tripping on loose cables or burning your skin as you reach over a boiling kettle placed under the paper towel dispenser.
Either way, it’s the primary role of the risk assessment to uncover all of these potential risks. Once you are aware of them and who could get hurt, you can take action to remove or minimise the hazards and protect the health and wellbeing of your employees, as well as anyone else who enters your workplace.
Risk assessments can prevent fatal accidents
In high-risk work environments, being unaware of the potential hazards people are exposed to can have fatal consequences. In 2020 -2021, 142 employees and 60 members of the public in Great Britain died in workplace accidents, with the top causes being attributed to a fall from a height, being struck by a moving vehicle or being struck by a moving object. It’s impossible to say how many of these deaths could have been prevented if risks had been managed differently.
At the end of the day, occupational health and safety is about much more than just compliance. Facing a deadly accident at work is an extremely traumatic event. This is why it’s important to assess health and safety risks in the workplace – it gives you peace of mind knowing that you have done everything in your power to prevent tragedies from happening.
You can protect yourself from legal liability
When an accident at work occurs, an investigation is launched to find out who’s at fault. Could you have assessed the health and safety risks better? If you have carried out all necessary risk assessments and you have all the documentation to prove it, you reduce the chances of your company being held liable for any harm sustained as a result of the accident. This could help you protect your finances and your business reputation.
What’s more, under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, members of senior management can be held personally responsible for health and safety offences committed by their subordinates. If the law finds you to be in a position to control or change potentially harmful behaviour but you haven’t, then you could face jail time and hefty fines. This is why the responsibility to ensure risk assessments are conducted right should not be taken lightly.
You can improve the health and safety culture at work
Providing adequate health and safety training is a fundamental part of any successful risk management strategy. How can risk assessments help with that? Well, they are a great source of learning material. Health and safety training are often generic which can make them inefficient. Also, if the material covered isn’t particularly relevant to the audience, the employees in attendance could feel disinterested which could then impact the results of the training. Using the learnings gained from a risk assessment at work can help you build a health and safety training plan that targets specific problems faced by your employees on a daily basis. This can not only increase engagement in the training process but also its perceived value by the attendees, which could then contribute to building a positive safety culture in the workplace.
How to do a risk assessment right
You can learn all about conducting a risk assessment in our handy guide but essentially, any risk assessment should follow five key steps:
- Identify hazards and who they can affect
- Analyse risk probability and severity
- Find ways to remove/reduce these risk
- Keep a detailed record of your findings
- Review whether your control measures are working
By following these, you ensure that the assessment has been thorough and all preventable risks have been identified and either completely removed or reduced to an acceptable level. It’s also important to ensure that there are no errors in the data and that no risks remain unaddressed. A strategy that helps with that is adopting a paperless approach to risk assessments and digitalising the process using risk assessment software.
However you approach risk management at your workplace, you always have to keep in mind that the true importance of risk assessment goes far beyond your legal responsibilities – it’s about safeguarding the people in your business. By conducting risk assessments you could be preserving yourself and your business from financial and reputational damages but most importantly, you could be saving lives.
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