Persons at risk
The risk assessment process
The HSE approach to risk assessment (5 steps) will be used to discuss the process of risk assessment. It is, however, easier to divide the process into six elements:
• hazard identification
• persons at risk
• evaluation of risk level
• risk controls (existing and additional)
• record of risk assessment findings
• monitoring and review.
Each element will be discussed in turn.
5.9.1 Hazard identification
Hazard identification is the crucial first step of risk assessment. Only significant hazards, which could result in serious harm to people, should be identified. Trivial hazards should be ignored.
A tour of the area under consideration by the risk assessment team is an essential part of hazard identification as is consultation with the relevant section of the workforce.
A review of accident, incident and ill-health records will also help with the identification. Other sources of information include safety inspection, survey and audit reports, job or task analysis reports, manufacturers’ handbooks or data sheets and approved codes of practice and other forms of guidance.
Hazards will vary from workplace to workplace.
It is important that unsafe conditions are not confused with hazards, during hazard identification. Unsafe conditions should be rectified as soon as possible after observation. Examples of unsafe conditions include missing machine guards, faulty warning systems and oil spillage on the workplace floor.
5.9.2 Persons at risk
Employees and contractors who work full time at the workplace are the most obvious groups at risk and it will be-necessary check that they are competent to perform their particular tasks. However, there may be other groups who spend time in or around the workplace. These include young workers, trainees, new and expectant mothers, cleaners, contractor and maintenance workers and members of the public. Members of the public will include visitors, patients, students or customers as well as passers by.
The risk assessment must include any additional controls required due to the vulnerability of any of these groups, perhaps caused by inexperience or disability. It must also give an indication of the numbers of people from the different groups who come into contact with the hazard and the frequency of these contacts.
5.9.3 Evaluation of risk level
During most risk assessment it will be noted that some of the risks posed by the hazard have already been addressed or controlled. The purpose of the risk assessment, therefore, is to reduce the remaining risk. This is called the residual risk.
The goal of risk assessment is to reduce all residual risks to as low a level as reasonably practicable. In a relatively complex workplace, this will take time so that a system of ranking risk is required – the higher the risk level the sooner it must be addressed and controlled.
For most situations, a qualitative risk assessment will be perfectly adequate. (This is certainly the case for NEBOSH Certificate candidates and is suitable for use during the practical assessment.) During the risk assessment, a judgement is made as to whether the risk level is high, medium or low in terms of the risk of somebody being injured. This designation defines a timetable for remedial actions to be taken thereby reducing the risk. High-risk activities should normally be addressed in days, medium risks in weeks and low risks in months or in some cases no action will be required. It will usually be necessary for risk assessors to receive some training in risk level designation.
A quantitative risk assessment attempts to quantify the risk level in terms of the likelihood of an incident and its subsequent severity. Clearly the higher the likelihood and severity, the higher the risk will be. The likelihood depends on such factors as the control measures in place, the frequency of exposure to the hazard and the category person exposed to the hazard. The severity will depend on the magnitude of the hazard (e.g. voltage, toxicity etc.). HSE suggest in HSG(65) a simple 3×3 matrix to determine risk levels.
Likelihood of occurrence Likelihood level
Harm is certain or near certain to occur High 3
Harm will often occur Medium 2
Harm will seldom occur Low 1
Severity of harm Severity level
Death or major injury (as defined by RIDDOR) Major 3
3 day injury or illness (as defined by RIDDOR) Serious 2
All other injuries or illnesses Slight1
Risk = Severity x Likelihood
6 – 9 High risk
3 – 4 Medium risk
1 – 2 Low risk
It is possible to apply such methods to organizational risk or to the risk that the manage¬ment system for health and safety will not deliver in the way in which it was expected or required. Such risks will add to the activity or occupational risk level. In simple terms, poor supervision of an activity will increase its overall level of risk. A risk management matrix has been developed which combines these two risk levels as shown below.
Whichever type of risk evaluation method is used, the level of risk simply enables a timetable of risk reduction to be formulated. The legal duty requires that all risks should be reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable.
L Low risk M Medium risk H High risk