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Section B1 Guidance note - Risk assessment and control

This web page is part of the Health and Safety Manual. This is for use by Surrey County Council staff only.

  • Section title: Risk assessment and control
  • Document type: Guidance note
  • Section: B1
  • Date of creation: 15/08/2008
  • SMI number: 1/08

What is a risk assessment?

The term risk assessment can sound daunting but we all do them every day. Crossing a road, using a tool, cleaning a toilet – we can only do anything safely if we make the right decisions about what might harm us and how to prevent injuries or illness.

The reasons for doing this are obvious and outside work we can make personal choices about how much risk we are prepared to take. At work these choices are limited by legal duties. Your employer must tell you how to work safely and you must comply. Regulations specify that employers must:

  • Assess risks to find out what needs to be done to keep people safe.
  • Tell those affected about risks and precautions.
  • Keep records to prove they have done this.

How to do risk assessments

In practice Surrey County Council can carry out its employer duties only through the actions of the people doing its work. The council's health and safety policy includes the following statement:
  • Managers must ensure that safe working methods determined via valid risk assessments exist for all work activities under their control.
This procedure has been written to help managers achieve that goal. Central Joint Safety Committee has approved the wording after consultation with management and employee representatives. This makes it part of the council's health and safety policy and safe working instructions required by law. For more information on these legal requirements see Section A.

To do a risk assessment you need to be clear about the meaning of the words hazard and risk.

  • A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as a slippery floor, electricity, an unpredictable person, etc.
  • The risk is a combination of the chance that a hazard may actually harm one or more people, together with an estimate of how serious that harm could be.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends a five step approach to risk assessment, as follows:
  • Step 1 - Identify the hazards.
  • Step 2 - Decide who might be harmed and how.
  • Step 3 - Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
  • Step 4 - Record your findings and implement them.
  • Step 5 - Review your assessment and update if necessary.
This is helpful guidance but not a compulsory format. Good employers had determined safe working methods long before recording risk assessments was a legal requirement. They used risk assessments to do this but these were not usually recorded under that heading. It is not good use of time to re-write effective safety procedures into a different format but managers must be able to demonstrate that valid risk assessments exist for work activities they control.

To help managers link existing safety procedures to relevant risk assessments the council has published generic risk assessments listing hazards, risks and published precautions. A generic risk assessment is a valuable resource for the following reasons:

  • It can be compiled by competent specialists.
  • It can help achieve consistent standards across large organisations.
  • It reduces workload for local managers.
However, generic risk assessments can be effective only if:
  • Those affected by the risks know about and act on the assessment's conclusions.
  • Additional assessments are undertaken for risks not covered by the generic record.
A summary generic assessment covering the risks affecting most council activities is published as Appendix 4A. Managers can use this as a starting point for recording their risk assessments to take advantage of the benefits listed in paragraph 6. To do this, managers should:
  • Read the summary risk assessment.
  • Add more detail to pre-worded entries as necessary to record local variations.
  • Add information on controlling other relevant risks or state where it is filed.
  • Communicate this information to all who need it to keep themselves or others safe.
  • Review the assessments and precautions periodically and in response to change.
Appendix 4B is provided to help managers communicate the most common risks and precautions to their teams.

Appendix 4A uses the HSE five step approach. Managers can use this approach to assess risks and develop precautions for matters they understand. This should include the majority of service delivery activities, as this is the work managers have been recruited and trained to do. The following ideas should help with the five steps.

Step 1: Identify the hazards

  • Talk to your team about what they find dangerous, difficult or stressful.
  • Look for relevant information in the Safety Manual and service procedures.
  • Ask for expert help from service managers or support staff (eg Occupational health).
  • Network with other professional colleagues.

Step 2: Decide who might be harmed and how

  • Encourage your team to share experiences about risks to themselves and others.
  • Consider what dangers the work might cause to service users, contractors, etc.
  • If you work with partner organisations ask them about their risk assessments.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

  • Use team knowledge and experience of what can go wrong in your service activities.
  • Then use your imagination to anticipate anything else that might go wrong.
  • Agree safe working methods in advance together with your team.
  • Where possible use agreed professional standards (see above information sources).
Use one or more precautions from as near the top of the following list as possible:
  • Avoid the risk (eg stop the activity).
  • Assess and reduce risks that cannot be avoided.
  • Combat the risk at source (eg repair frayed carpet rather than display a warning).
  • Adapt work to individual capability (see section F1).
  • Take advantage of technical improvements (eg mobile phones for lone workers).
  • Look for safer alternatives (eg using bleach-free toilet cleaners).
  • Encourage a health and safety culture (eg regular team agenda items).
  • Prefer group precautions to individual (eg a silencer is better than ear plugs).
  • Instruct employees how to reduce risks that cannot be tackled by these methods.
The council's health and safety policy describes acceptable health and safety standards as:
  • recognised national or international statutory or professional standards.
  • standards agreed via Surrey County Council's consultation procedures.
  • local agreements between managers, staff and competent persons.
For more information on risk control methods see section B2.

Step 4: Record your findings and implement them

  • You can use the procedure in paragraph 7 above or any other method that records the required information. References to existing information sources are acceptable provided they can easily be accessed.

Step 5: Review your risk assessment and update if necessary

  • Get into the habit of asking 'does this affect risks or precautions' whenever there is a change to staffing, activities, funding or externally imposed factors. If it does, update the assessment/precautions and make sure everybody affected acts on the update.
  • Review the assessment periodically even if there are no significant changes. Make sure everybody still remembers their precautions and acts on them.
A blank form corresponding to the format used for Appendix 4A is provided as appendix 3 for managers to use of they find it helpful.

Further help with risk assessments

Managers are not expected to undertake risk assessments themselves unless they have knowledge and experience of relevant risks and precautions. However, they are required to arrange risk assessments for all activities under their control.

A generic risk assessment covering a greater variety of hazards than Appendix 4A is published as Appendix 4. Managers can use this to find corporate and service publications that already record risk assessment and safety procedures relevant to their needs. An explanation of the risk assessment method used to compile appendix 4 is provided in appendix 2.

Where published procedures and their own knowledge are insufficient to meet risk assessment needs managers can seek help from specialists. These may work in their own service or be corporate support staff, such as Facilities Managers or Occupational Health. Section A3 describes the council's policy for arranging competent support.

If you cannot find the information or expert help you need tell your manager. More difficult enquiries should be reported to the Service Safety Co-ordinator for referral to the Strategic Health and Safety Team. (Service Safety Co-ordinators are listed in section A3 appendix 3).

A flow chart summarising this approach to risk assessment is provided as appendix 1.

If this procedure and your own knowledge do not meet your risk assessment needs you should arrange training via the countywide training catalogue or a service training bid as necessary.

Young persons and new or expectant mothers

Young persons (under 18) and mothers who are expecting or have recently given birth need extra risk assessments as described in appendix 5.

Page information

  • Updated: 08 Apr 2013
  • Dave Blane
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