Risk assessment legislation: how it affects your business

03 August 2015 Kieron Johnson

Risk assessment legislation can be a pain, especially when it means more and more red tape for your business. But the reality is that the laws are in place to protect your business, your customers and the public at large. Bureaucracy isn’t dead (so you won’t be hearing its eulogy anytime soon), but you can make it less bothersome by reading our guide.

Part of running a successful business involves keeping on top of the reams of legislative measures that affect it. Risk assessment is a ‘hot topic’ in this area, which will assume even greater significance as the scope of potential risks increases over time.

Risk assessment has become synonymous with health and safety.

Employers and the self-employed are under a duty to assess risks in the workplace under health and safety law.

Swot up on our guide to risk assessment legislation, so your business doesn’t run the risk of falling foul of the law. It’ll also serve as a ‘refresher’ for those who want to ensure that their risk assessment policies are up to scratch.

What is the purpose of risk assessment?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains the basis for risk assessment in the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), which is an addendum to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999:

“The purpose of the risk assessment is to help the employer or self-employed person to determine what measures should be taken to comply with the employer’s or self-employed person’s duties under the ‘relevant statutory provisions’” and Part II of the Fire Regulations.

This covers the general duties in the Health & Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974 and Part II of the Fire Regulations and the more specific duties in the various Acts and Regulations (including these Regulations) associated with the HSWA.”

What risks must be assessed?

Under the MHSWR, all employers must assess the general health risks relating to work.

The ACoP requires a risk assessment to highlight the hazards and evaluate the extent of the risks involved, factoring in existing precautions.

It specifically states:

“a hazard is something with the potential to cause harm (this includes articles, substances, plants or machines, methods of work, the working environment and other aspects of work organisation);

risk is the likelihood of potential harm from that hazard being realised. The extent of the risk will depend on the likelihood of that harm occurring; the potential severity of that harm, i.e. of any resultant injury or adverse health effect; and the population that might be affected by the hazards, i.e. the number of people who might be exposed.”

Whose risks must be assessed?

Risk assessments fall into two camps: general and specific.

General risk assessments are covered by the provisions of Regulation 3 of the MHSWR, which state that:

“Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:

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

for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions.”

More specific risk assessments are embodied in other legislation, including:

  • The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

How must the risks be assessed?

There are no hard and fast rules for how you should carry out a risk assessment. It’s completely down to your discretion.

But the HSE does provide a guiding hand on how your risk assessment can meet the ‘suitable and sufficient’ requirement in Regulation 3 of the MHSWR.

It should:

  • Address all hazards and risks.
  • Review routine and non-routine parts of the work activity, including staff not under your direct supervision (for example, off-site workers, home workers, etc).
  • Consider how work is organised and its potential effect on health.

Who must carry out the risk assessment?

Whoever conducts the risk assessment and devises the necessary follow-up action should be au fait with all the ‘relevant statutory provisions.’

This info should filter down to safety reps, who should also be consulted about:

  • How the risk assessment is to be carried out.
  • The actions required to reduce risk (which flow from the risk assessments).

How often must the risk assessment be carried out?

Risk assessment isn’t a one-time deal.

It should be a dynamic process, which continually evolves over time.

Regulation 3 specifically states that you must review the risk assessment in two sets of circumstances:

“(a) there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid; or

(b) there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates; and where as a result of any such review changes to an assessment are required, the employer or self-employed person concerned shall make them.”

Case study: Food company fined for failing to do risk assessment

A worker suffered hand injuries after clearing a sugar dispensing machine at a Berkshire factory.

Their employer – English Provender Company, a Liverpool-based food company – was ordered to pay costs of £1,178 and fined £15,000 for each breach of the following:

  • Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
  • Regulation 3(1)(a) of MHSWR.

Speaking in the wake of the decision, HSE inspector, Leon Donovan, said:

“English Provender Company should have carried out a proper assessment of the risks involved in the operation and maintenance of their sugar dispensing machine.

This would have identified the issues that lead to this unfortunate accident which could have been avoided if the company had fitted a simple inexpensive fixed guard to prevent access to a dangerous automatic sliding sluice valve.”

Risk assessment legislation isn’t a cakewalk. It’s not always easy to get your head around it, but hopefully you’re a bit more up to speed with what the law requires of your business. All you have to do now is keep it that way.