Stephen Thomas, health and safety technical consultant at Croner, explains what your responsibilities are as a business owner in regards to managing health and safety.
Stephen Thomas, health and safety technical consultant at Croner explains what your responsibilities are as a business owner and gives some practical guidance to managing health and safety.
Sometimes it seems not a day goes by when an “elf n’ safety” story doesn't hit the headlines. Often the tales are downright silly, but there are occasions when there are tragic stories such as the death of forklift driver Robert Wilson, who was hit by a metal bin that fell off a fork lift.
Business owners shouldn’t neglect their duties, as Wilson's employer, JMW Farms Limited, did. Not only will they face prosecution and a possible jail sentence but the irreparable damage to worker relationships and the image of the company. Indeed JMW Farms Limited was fined a record £187,500 plus £13,000 costs and untold negative media coverage, something that could have been easily avoided if they had carried out regular risk assessments.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to properly manage health and safety in the workplace. This is achieved primarily by conducting risk assessments.
Hazards and risks
When carrying out risk assessments, it is important to appreciate the difference between the terms “hazard” and “risk”. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm; risk is the likelihood the harm will occur. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends employers follow five basic steps in conducting risk assessments:
• Step 1: look for the hazards
• Step 2: decide who might be harmed and how
• Step 3: evaluate the risks and decide on the adequacy of existing precautions
• Step 4: record your findings
• Step 5: review and revise the assessments as necessary.
Step 1: Look for the hazards
Identifying hazards can be done by carrying out an inspection of your workplace, consulting with employees and keeping records of any hazards present. The range of hazards present will depend on the type of activities undertaken by the employer. Typically, they can include:
• physical hazards, eg machinery, noise, electricity, fire, vibration, work at height, etc
• ergonomic hazards, eg working space, workstation layout, repetitive movements, etc
• chemical/substance hazards, eg asbestos, cleaning chemicals, paints, thinners, etc
• biological hazards, eg bacteria and viruses.
Step 2: Decide who could be harmed and how
The regulations require the risks to both employees and non-employees to be considered in any risk assessment. Therefore, where appropriate, risks to pupils and members of the public, contractors, etc need to be noted.
Employers must also appreciate that certain types of people may face an increased risk. New and expectant mothers, as well as young workers, need to be specifically considered in risk assessments.
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on the adequacy of existing precautions
To assist in the estimation of risk, the following equation is often used: risk = likelihood x severity.
In other words, risk is a combination of how likely it is that someone may be injured and the severity of the injury likely to be sustained. Qualitative measures for likelihood and frequency can be used, such as high, medium or low.
Alternatively, scoring systems can be used to give a semi-quantitative measure for the risk assessment.
Step 4: Record your findings
Employers with five or more employees are required to record, in writing, the findings of their risk assessments. No specific statutory form has to be used. However, the regulations require that “significant findings” of the risk assessment be recorded. These will include records of the precautions in place to control the risks and what further action (if any) was taken to reduce the risk.
The findings must also provide enough detail to prove that a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment has been carried out. This will include:
• details of the work
• equipment or process being assessed
• the people at risk
• the hazards involved and the level of risk.
Step 5: Review and revise the assessments as necessary
The duty to carry out risk assessments is not a once-and-for-all activity. If a risk assessment is going to be worthwhile, then the assessments need to be kept under review to ensure that they are applicable, valid and up-to-date. A review might be necessary as a result of any of the following situations:
• an accident has occurred during an activity that has already been assessed for risk
• a workplace is reorganised
• a new process or new technology has been introduced
• there is a significant change in the law.
On that basis it is advisable to carry out risk assessments on a regular basis.
In addition to risk assessments employers are also required to provide employees with health surveillance, as is appropriate. Health surveillance is essentially a “health check”, such as:
• biological monitoring, eg a blood test
• biological effect monitoring, eg a lung function test
• medical surveillance, including clinical examination and measurement of physiological or psychological effects
• enquiries about symptoms, eg by a qualified occupational health nurse.
Health surveillance is also specifically required by other regulations, such as the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.