I haven't a clue how to write a risk assessment. It is part of my job now I have been promoted.

Congratulations on your promotion. By the way, you are not the first and you won't be the last to have fallen through the net when it comes to picking up knowledge and skills about particular aspects of work. It can be hard to keep up to date with everything we are supposed to know. Two or three years ago, a middle-aged farmer asked me what COSHH stands for — that was worrying.

The importance of risk assessments should not be underestimated. We do them to protect our colleagues, our employees, ourselves and members of the public and to comply with the law. The point of them is to identify hazards and take measures to control them to protect people as far as is "reasonably practicable". The law does not expect risks to be eliminated all together.

There are several ways of fulfilling a risk assessment, but a simple and effective way involves five simple steps.

First, identify the hazards or risks. Examine all aspects of your work, including travel to site and receiving visitors. Look at all the tasks and operations carried out, be they driving mowers or tractors, cutting hedges, carrying compost, whatever. Then think about the hazards that result from those operations — machinery manuals will help you to identify some - and remember to think about immediate risks such as trips, slips and burns as well as long-term hazards to health such as noise, vibration and exposure to harmful substances.

Second, you need to decide who might be harmed — groups such as "mower operators", "mechanics", "passers-by" or perhaps even "new workers" or "expectant mothers".

Third, evaluate the risks — high, medium or low — and decide what precautions are required. Remember that the law requires you to do everything "reasonably practicable" to protect people from harm. Perhaps you could get rid of the hazard? Maybe it is a case of checking guarding on a machine or displaying warning signs for the public to see? Or perhaps an operator needs to attend a training course and wear personal protective equipment?

Some measures will already be in place to reduce the likelihood of harm. But for other areas, further action may be necessary. Deal with the high-risk issues first. Consider how the assessment will be put into action, who will be responsible for the actions and when.

Fourth, record your findings. Only businesses with more than five employees are required by law to write down their risk assessment investigation findings. However, a record of them is proof that the assessment has been carried out and a written record can be made available to share with staff.

You can use steps one, two, three and four as column headings — what risks are present, who is at risk, the level of risk, what you are doing or needs to be done to reduce risks and how the assessment will be put into action (by whom, by when and when completed). Share the information with everyone who needs to know.

Fifth, review and update as new equipment and products or employees cause the situation to change. Add in anything learnt along the way and periodically check that it remains up to date and appropriate.

For more information, visit the Health & Safety website at www.hse.gov.uk.


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