What is a Risk Assessment?

Section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires that employers and those who control workplaces to any extent must identify the hazards in the workplaces under their control and assess the risks to safety and health at work presented by these hazards.

Employers must examine and write down these workplace risks and what to do about them. Ultimately, assessing risk means that anything in the workplace that could cause harm to your employees, other employees and other people (including customers, visitors and members of the public) must be carefully examined. This allows you to estimate the magnitude of risk and decide whether the risk is acceptable or whether more precautions need to be taken to prevent harm.

Employers are required to implement any improvements considered necessary by the risk assessment. The aim is to ensure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill.

However, it is important to remember that, in identifying hazards and assessing risks, employers should only consider those which are generated by work activities. There is no need to consider every minor hazard or risk that we accept as part of our lives.

The results of any Risk Assessments should be written into the Safety Statement.

What is a Safety Statement?

Section 20 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires that an organisation produce a written programme to safeguard:

  • the safety and health of  employees while they work
  • the safety and health of  other people who might be at the workplace, including customers, visitors and members of the public

The Safety Statement represents a commitment to their safety and health. It should state how the employer will ensure their safety and health and state the resources necessary to maintain and review safety and health laws and standards. The Safety Statement should influence all work activities, including

  • the selection of competent people, equipment and materials
  • the way work is done
  • how goods and services are designed and provided

It is essential to write down the Safety Statement and put in place the arrangements needed to implement and monitor it. The Safety Statement must be made available to staff, and anyone else, showing that hazards have been identified and the risks assessed and eliminated or controlled.

What is the difference between a hazard and a risk?

A hazard, in general, refers to anything with the potential to cause harm in terms of human injury or ill-health, damage to property, damage to the environment or a combination of these, e.g. chemical substances, machinery or methods of work, whereas risk means the likelihood, great or small, that an undesired event will occur due to the realisation of a hazard. Risk is dependent on the likelihood that a hazard may occur, together with the severity of the harm suffered/consequences. Risk is also dependent on the number of people who might be exposed to the hazard.

Why is it important to carry out a Risk Assessment and prepare a Safety Statement?

The main aim is to make sure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill. Accidents and ill health can ruin lives, and can also affect business if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase, or if you have to go to court. Therefore, carrying out Risk Assessments, preparing and implementing a Safety Statement and keeping both up to date will not in themselves prevent accidents and ill health but they will play a crucial part in reducing their likelihood.

Employers, managers and supervisors should all ensure that workplace practices reflect the Risk Assessments and Safety Statement. Behaviour, the way in which everyone works, must reflect the safe working practices laid down in these documents. Supervisory checks and audits should be carried out to determine how well the aims set down are being achieved. Corrective action should be taken when required. Additionally, if a workplace is provided for use by others, the Safety Statement must also set out the safe work practices that are relevant to them.

 Hence, it is important to carry out a Risk Assessment and prepare a Safety Statement for:

 1. Financial reasons:
There is considerable evidence, borne out by companies’ practical experiences, that effective safety and health management in the workplace contributes to business success. Accidents and ill-health inflict significant costs, often hidden and underestimated.

 2. Legal reasons:
Carrying out a Risk Assessment, preparing a Safety Statement and implementing what you have written down are not only central to any safety and health management system, they are required by law. Health and Safety Authority inspectors visiting workplaces will want to know how employers are managing safety and health. If they investigate an accident, they will scrutinise the Risk Assessment and Safety Statement, and the procedures and work practices in use. It should be ensured that these stand up to examination. If the inspector finds that one of these is inadequate, he or she can ask the employer to revise it. Employers can be prosecuted if they do not have a Safety Statement.

3. Moral and ethical reasons:
The process of carrying out a Risk Assessment, preparing a Safety Statement and implementing what you have written down will help employers prevent injuries and ill-health at work.  Employers are ethically bound to do all they can to ensure that their employees do not suffer illness, a serious accident or death.

What does the law require regarding Risk Assessments and Safety Statements?

Every employer is required to manage safety and health at work so as to prevent accidents and ill-health.  The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires employers to:

  • identify the hazards
  • carry out a Risk Assessment
  • prepare a written Safety Statement

This process has a practical purpose. It will help employers and other duty holders to manage employees’ safety and health, and get the balance right between the size of any safety and health problems and what has to be done about them. This is because the system must be risk-based. The required safety measures must be proportionate to the real risks involved and must be adequate to eliminate, control or minimise the risk of injury. The system must involve consultation between the employer and his/her employees, who are required by law to cooperate with the employer in the safety-management process.

Who needs to read the Risk Assessments and Safety Statement?

The employer must ensure that the contents of the Safety Statement, which includes the Risk Assessments, is brought to the attention of all employees and others at the workplace who may be exposed to any risks covered by the Safety Statement. In particular, all new employees must be made aware of the Safety Statement when they start work. The Statement must be in a form and language that they all understand.

Other people may be exposed to a specific risk dealt with in the Safety Statement and the Statement should be brought to their attention. These people could include:

  • outside contractors who do cleaning, maintenance or building work
  • temporary workers
  • delivery people who stack their goods in the premises and come in contact with activities there
  • self-employed people who provide a service for the employer 

Where specific tasks are carried out, which pose a serious risk to safety and health, the relevant contents of the Safety Statement must be brought to the attention of those affected, setting out the hazards identified, the Risk Assessments and the safety and health measures that must be taken.

How often do staff need to read the Risk Assessment and Safety Statement?

The relevant contents of the Safety Statement should be brought to the attention of the employees and others affected at least annually, and whenever it is revised. The employer has an ongoing responsibility to ensure that all relevant persons are aware of the Safety Statement and understand its terms. A campaign to discharge this responsibility could include a combination of written and verbal communication, including:

  • distributing the Safety Statement, specific Risk Assessments or relevant sections of it to all employees when first prepared and whenever significant changes are made
  • making the Safety Statement and specific Risk Assessments available electronically on company intranet sites which can be easily interrogated
  • verbal communication of the terms of the Safety Statement or particular Risk Assessments
  • inclusion of the relevant parts of the Safety Statement and specific Risk Assessments in employees’ handbooks or manuals
  • through ongoing training

Do I need to give a copy of the Safety Statement to every employee?

The 2005 Act specifies the information that must be given to employees. The Safety Statement must be accessible to all employees and the sections of the Safety Statement relevant to the employees must be brought to their attention, with particular regard to the specific hazards, risks and prevention measures concerning their particular job. The Safety Statement must be brought to the attention of all employees at least annually.

How can an employer control risk?

Employers are required to do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of injury or damage to the safety and health of their employees. Employers will have done all that is reasonably practicable if they have: 

  • exercised care in putting in place necessary preventive measures
  • identified the hazards and risks relating to the place of work
  • put in place appropriate measures such that it would be grossly disproportionate to do more

Some common methods of controlling risk are:

  • replacing a hazardous system, e.g. using mechanical aids to reduce or eliminate the need for manual handling
  • replacing a substance with a less hazardous substance, e.g. replacing a flammable substance with a non-flammable substance
  • designing the workplace to reduce risk, e.g. providing guardrails around roof-mounted equipment or designated walkways and crossing points through areas with moving vehicles
  • ensuring a clean and tidy workplace to prevent trips and slips
  • extracting or containing the hazard at source, e.g. providing a fume cupboard with extraction
  • adapting the work to the individual, e.g. providing adjustable height tables or chairs to reduce muscle injuries
  • ventilating an area of the workplace where extraction at source is not possible
  • isolating the process or the worker, e.g. switching off and isolating machines before carrying out repairs or alterations
  • safeguarding machinery, e.g. providing interlocked guards that switch off the machine if someone tries to gain entry to dangerous parts of it
  • providing adequate training and supervision
  • establishing emergency planning procedures, including first aid
  • providing protective equipment, clothing or signs (they should be used only as a last resort after all other ways of eliminating the hazard have been fully explored)
  • setting up adequate health surveillance programmes including pre-placement or regular health checks where appropriate
  • analysing and investigating accidents (including ill-health) and dangerous occurrences
  • using permit-to-work systems or safe working procedures
  • putting in place adequate welfare facilities
  • establishing other policies as appropriate, e.g. to eradicate bullying, etc.

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