Managing risk in your workplace is an essential element of keeping your workforce as safe as possible and ensuring that with proper controls, your business will not become liable for injuries or fatalities to people.
Although it can depend on what your business does, and some industry sectors such as construction or chemicals are inherently more dangerous than office-based activities, you should never ignore the fact that something could go wrong in your working environment.
Your job is to put in place the right strategies and controls to minimise risk. You can't completely eliminate it, but you can go a long way to making sure that your employees, and visitors to your premises, are as safe as possible.
What do you need to do to ensure that you are managing risk appropriately and remain competitive in your sector?
Carry out a risk assessment
Assessing risk should be a normal part of the way that your business operates, but there are some organisations that don't pay as much attention as they should to what ought to be examined and then what appropriate measures need to be put in place. This can leave them open to complaints from employees and, if things escalate, to legal action brought against a business.
Nobody would prefer to go down that road, so carrying out a risk assessment, developing a policy, and then implementing it is the best way to nip any potential problems in the bud. No policy is perfect, however, so you should look to regularly update your risk assessment to ensure that it covers all aspects of what your business does and what could go wrong. Your duty as an employer is to keep your workers safe and this should be treated seriously.
Organising the assessment
Preparing a risk assessment requires several steps to be taken, and most businesses can carry out one themselves. After all, you know your own organisation better than anyone, so you don't necessarily need a health and safety expert to deal with it. If you do have an employee trained in health and safety, then their input will be very helpful.
Follow the steps below to get your risk assessment organised.
Anything that causes harm to an employee is a hazard, and examples include working at height with the potential for someone to fall, working with chemicals and machinery, and dealing with asbestos. Examine all areas of your workplace to determine what may pose a risk, and look at the accident and ill-health records from past occurrences to see if there are some less obvious hazards that can be identified from them.
Remember that it's not just slips, trips and falls that can pose a hazard. Bear in mind that exposure to harmful substances or high levels of noise can be damaging to health.
Engage with your employees
Your workers are the ones who will have an intimate knowledge of the areas in which they work, so engage their cooperation to help identify who might be harmed and how that could happen. Everyone on site is entitled to protection, and often your workers may know best. They can be an important cog in the machine to help control risks as you develop your health and safety policy.
The more that you engage with your workforce on risk assessment, the less likely they are to feel at risk. However, if the processes that you put in place are inadequate, they are entitled to speak to a manager about aspects that may have been overlooked or file a complaint, and any complaint should be looked into as a matter of urgency and steps taken to mitigate any potential risks identified from it.
If an employee does get injured and considers the employer to have been negligent in some aspect of risk assessment and control, they may well approach personal injury lawyers to take up a case for compensation. If your company is put in that position and a case were to be proven, you could have to pay out considerable compensation to the injured worker, have to cover that person's legal costs, and potentially pay a fine. It makes sense to prevent the possibility of that happening as far as it's possible by having robust health and safety procedures in place.
Once you have evaluated the risks in your workplace, you need to decide the likelihood of harm being caused. No workplace is risk free, and you can't be expected to eliminate every risk possibility. What you can do is manage the risks responsibly, identifying the major ones, and putting controls in place so that all employees are aware of the potential for danger.
This could include signage relating to potentially slippery surfaces or warnings of hazardous chemicals, and when you have drawn up your health and safety policy, every employee should be provided with a copy to raise their awareness of health and safety issues and be on the lookout for any current or new problems.
Some risks are unforeseeable, and you are not expected to anticipate these – just the ones that you reasonably could be expected to know.
Where hazards have been identified, make a record as to what they are, how employees could be harmed, and the control measures that you have put in place. The law states that you must do this if you have more than five employees. You don't have to write things down if you have fewer than five, but you may find it useful so that it can be referred to when necessary.
Things often change in workplaces, so it's sensible to have records that can be updated when the need arises. By making a note of the main potential hazards, you can keep communicating with your workers so that they understand that health and safety is a high priority for your business.
Prepare and implement
Mismanaging risk can be extremely costly, so it's essential to protect your workforce and the business itself with a thorough risk assessment that is then implemented and reviewed on a regular basis.