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Last updated: 02.08.19

Understanding the legal requirements for risk assessments

Why are risk assessments important?

Regardless of the industry you work in, risk assessments are a vital part of your health and safety plan. A thorough risk assessment will allow you to spot potential hazards before they can injure your staff, and they often inform the safety procedures responsible for safeguarding the health of your workforce. Risk assessments are also a legal requirement for all UK business. According to the terms of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) business owners and employers must “make a suitable and sufficient assessment” of:

  • (a) the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
  • (b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) also sets out specific rules for the way these assessments need to be recorded and reviewed by other members of staff, to ensure that all workplace hazards are assessed correctly. 

In this article, we will take a look at the legal requirements for risk assessments and help you to understand what you need to do in order to meet the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s rigorous safety standards.

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What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a formal analysis of any potential hazards in the workplace. This could include anything from heavy machinery, narrow fire escapes or biological hazards, right through to tripping hazards or loud noises - depending on your industry or your workplace. 

The HSE defines a risk assessment as “a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.'' Risk assessments must be recorded, and it’s important to note that most risk assessments include four distinct sections:

  • A record of the risk or hazard
  • A record of the people that could be harmed by the risk or hazard
  • An evaluation of the risk, drawing on 3rd party documentation to establish how dangerous it is, and how likely an accident could be
  • A clear plan of action that’s designed to help employees mitigate, manage or avoid the risk

Why is it important to carry out risk assessments?

Risk assessments are the backbone of any thorough health and safety policy. As mentioned above, all employers are also legally mandated to carry out regular risk assessments for all workplace hazards under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999).

Failure to carry out adequate risk assessments can open you up to legal actions and fines. In 2018, Tata Steel were fined £1.4 million after a worker was crushed by a crane, and a court ruled that their risk assessments had been inadequate. While fines this severe aren't commonplace, they do happen and it is always worth taking precautions to ensure that you are complying with the law.

Risk assessments are, in short, essential for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of your employees.

Looking for manual handling risk assessment guidance? Click Here to read our handy guide.

When do I need to carry out a risk assessment?

According to the HSE, “risk should be assessed "every time there are new machines, substances and procedures, which could lead to new hazards." which means you’ll need to carry out a new risk assessment every time:

  • You start work at a new site/location
  • You make a significant change to the way your employees carry out their work
  • You introduce new equipment to the workplace

Top Health and SafetyFAQs

What is fire safety?

Fire safety is a set of procedures which aim to reduce the amount of damage and injuries caused by fires. These include risk assessments to help identify and reduce areas of fire risk and formulate an emergency and evacuation plan in the event that a fire does break out.

How often should you do fire safety training?

Whenever new staff join the business, you’ll need to ensure they’re trained on your fire safety procedures. In addition to this, if anything changes within your business which adds new risks, you will need to inform all staff of the new fire risks.

Is manual handling training a legal requirement?

Under the Manual Handling Regulations you are legally obliged to ensure all employees are trained and competent in manual handling if their responsibilities may include manual handling.

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If you’d like to learn more about the legal requirements associated with risk assessments, you might be interested in the Virtual College introductory course on risk assessments, which you can find out more about on the course page here.

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