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What are the five steps to a risk assessment?

Risk Assessments: Explained

As a business owner, you’re probably already aware of the fact that risk assessments are an essential part of your health and safety protocol. As an employer, you are legally obligated to put specific measures and procedures in place to protect your employees, customers and the general public from harm. One way in which you can do this is through putting together a risk assessment plan.

However, if you’ve never written a risk assessment before, you might need a bit of help and guidance along the way. That’s where we come in.

To begin with, you may be questioning how many steps there in conducting a risk assessment, especially as the process can be rather timely. The advice laid out by the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), states that there are five stages of risk assessments that should be followed.

What is the first step of a risk assessment?

Step One: Identify the hazards

The first stage to putting together a risk assessment is identifying the hazards themselves and the risk they possess.

What is the difference between hazard and risk?

By definition, a hazard is ‘a danger’, or ‘something that can cause harm’. A risk determines the likelihood of the hazard actually causing a person harm or injury – and this is what you are factoring into your risk assessment.

Common workplace hazards include:

Exposure to hazardous substances.

If your employees are exposed to/using potential hazardous substances at work, such as chemicals, this should appear in your risk assessment. You need to ensure the products are safely stored, used and disposed of.


Unsurprisingly, there are numerous hazards associated with working with electricity.
This includes electric shocks or burns from contact with live wiring or injuries acquired from electrical equipment. You should also consider the likely event of an explosion or fire when writing your risk assessment.


Machinery should also factor into your risk assessment, for example, what injuries can occur if the equipment is misused, or otherwise damaged?


Workplace accidents happen from time to time. They are hard to predict but can include something as simple as slipping on some trailing wires. Therefore, you need to ensure that you note down any potential risks of slips, trips and falls into your assessment to minimise the chance of such events occurring.

Working from a height.

If your employees are using ladders, cranes or scaffolding as part of their routine, the risks of working from a height must be part of your risk assessment. For example, what height are they working from, and what injuries could be sustained should an accident occur?

Similar assessments should be carried out should they be working in confined spaces, or working alone.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, and you will have to take several other factors into account when you are writing your risk assessment. The easiest way to do this is simply to walk around your business and note any obvious potential risks and hazards you can see. This is far better than doing so from memory.

After completing your initial observations, you may wish to ask others if they think you have missed anything out. As risk assessments are so varied, you have to consider every tiny detail – even if something seems too obvious to write down. You may also wish to read risk assessments published by companies who work within a similar industry to you, as they will likely have many similarities.

Although some potential hazards will jump right out to you upon observation, you also need to consider long term risks. For example, what are the potential hazards associated with prolonged exposure to a particular chemical? Or, if your workplace is particularly noisy, what implications can this have on your employees hearing in ten or fifteen years? Remember, the more complete your assessment is, the stronger it will be and the better protected your employees and customers.

Step Two: Identify who is at risk.

Once you have identified your workplace hazards, you need to determine who exactly is at risk. At first, this may seem fairly straightforward. For example, when mentioning risks associated with machinery, it seems obvious that the employee handling the equipment is the person at risk. However, you also need to consider others who may be working in the vicinity of the room, cleaners who may be in charge of maintaining the equipment’s upkeep, and whether or not the general public will be nearby when the equipment is in use.

Furthermore, some employees may be more vulnerable than others or may have to be factored into your risk assessment differently; this could include:

Young workers
People with disabilities
Expectant mothers
Lone workers

Step Three: Evaluate Risks & Set-Up Precautions

Once you have identified a risk, you need to set up a plan to either eliminate the risk or put suitable precautions in place to minimise it.

Therefore, the first question you should ask yourself is whether or not you can eliminate the hazard. For example, if your employees often have to carry heavy equipment, they are at risk of causing injury to their back, neck or shoulders. You can eliminate the risk of injury by sourcing equipment that makes heavy lifting easier, or does the work for them.

Although eliminating all risks is impossible, you can find ways to minimise its impact. This can be achieved in many different ways.

Substitution. One way in which you can minimise risk is by swapping out any old or damaged equipment for something new. If working with chemicals, you should research less hazardous alternatives and ensure that you are using the product that poses the least risk to yourself, your employees and your customers.

Prevent access. Another way you can minimise risk in the workplace is by ensuring that only those who need to use the equipment have access to it. You can do this by requiring employees to use a key card to enter a specific space or operate equipment. You should also ensure that all personnel are given training before using anything new.

Furthermore, if you are doing work in public areas (such as construction), you should set up barriers and signs to ensure the general public will not get in the way of work.

Prepare. You also need to ensure that your employees are ready to face any risks they might encounter. Although this again enforces the necessity of appropriate training, you should also provide them with PPE equipment. Personal protective equipment is often split into five sections.

Eye and face protection.
Safety glasses and goggles. (To stop anything entering their eyes, such as dust or chemicals)
Face shields. (Again, to protect the eyes and face from dust, dirt or other irritants)

Respiratory protection.
Face masks (The masks are used to ensure your employees are not exposed to dangerous chemicals or substances)

Hand protection.
Insulated gloves (If you are dealing with anything warm)
Latex/vinyl gloves (If you are dealing with chemicals or cleaning products)

Hearing protection.
Earmuffs/ear defenders

Body protection.

High visibility jackets/coats (These are particularly useful if your employees will be working outdoors, on the roadside or at times when the lighting may not be the best)
Harnesses (Used when employees are working at a great height/have a risk of falling)
Overalls/coveralls (Used to protect the skin from exposure to chemicals and other substances)
Safety boots with steel caps (Used to protect feet is a heavy item is dropped)
Antistatic and conductive footwear (Can be used to minimise the risk of getting an electric shock)

Set up facilities. You can also minimise workplace hazards by ensuring your workplace has suitable facilities, such as waste disposal and washing facilities.

It is important to remember that you cannot remove risks entirely. There is always an element of chance involved or something that can go wrong. However, the above steps make the chances of this much smaller. This is known as ‘residual risk’, i.e., the risk that exists under some element of control.

Step Four: Record your findings and implement them.

Once you have completed the above steps, it’s time to finally start writing your risk report. Although this may seem daunting, you’ve already done most of the hard work. To begin with, start with a rough draft where you note down all of the risks and the steps you have taken to minimise them. For example:

Risk: A member of staff tripping/falling over

Steps taken: Ensure that the workplace is cleaned frequently. If any spillages occur, a wet floor sign is clearly displayed before clean up begins. Employees should also be encouraged to take care when moving around and ensure that they keep work areas clear.

Once you have completed your risk assessment, you need to notify your staff and employees to ensure they understand any changes you have made. You may also wish to sign accountability to individual members of the team. For example, you should assign a particular person to check specific equipment each day.

What does suitable and sufficient mean?

For your risk assessment to meet government requirements, you need to ensure that it is ‘suitable and sufficient’. This means that you can prove that you have followed the above steps and ascertained:

You have completed the appropriate checks.
You have considered and noted down who is vulnerable to the risk.
You’ve minimised the risk where possible, leaving only a residual risk in place.
Your workers understand the changes.

There are plenty of templates available online that can provide you with advice on structure and phrasing. However, you mustn’t copy this material – it must be unique to you and your business, as every business is different.

If the process of putting the assessment is daunting, we’re here to help. Our online health and safety risk assessment software can reduce your time from completing a risk assessment by 80% by using our online step-by-step creator. We are also on hand to help explain the steps to carrying out a risk assessment, should you require further clarification.

Another way to encourage better safety in the workplace can also include putting up posters in the workplace.

Step Five: Review and Update

Your job is not necessarily complete once you’ve done the initial risk assessment. You will need to regularly review and update this plan to ensure that it continues to meet your employees’ needs. If you buy new equipment, it must be assessed and added to the plan. You may also need to complete a new assessment whenever you hire a new employee.