Workplace Safety

What Is A Risk Assessment & How To Complete One The Right Way


These days, risk feels like it’s losing its luster.

Think about how many ads you’re bombarded with that say as much.

“Start your risk-free trial”

“Invest in this no-risk asset now!”

The truth is that risk is everywhere and it’s difficult to get away from.  But don’t worry. You can be proactive to be more aware of potential risks.  Thinking about risk in this way can save you a bunch of time and even some headaches.

But outside of your everyday life, can you think of risk in the workplace the same way?  No matter the industry or work environment you’re in, are you able to see potential risks before they could become a problem?  If so, you should prepare a risk assessment if you haven’t already done so.

Our goal in this post is to define a risk assessment for the workplace.  If your business already utilizes a risk assessment, then you’re ahead of the game.  If not, we’ll give you the necessary steps to complete a risk assessment. Following these steps will help you to avoid the risks you and your team face during the work day.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment can be generally defined as the combined efforts of a few different factors.  

The first part involves identifying and evaluating potential future events.  Such events are ones that would have a negative impact on people, objects or an environment.  Another part involves making educated judgements on how tolerable a risk is based on analysis performed on that risk.

Said another way, a risk assessment:

    • Analyzes what could go wrong
    • Looks at the likelihood something will go wrong
    • Reviews possible consequences
    • Determines how tolerable the identified risk is

While this might sound confusing, it’s best to think of it this way.  In any work environment, there are potential hazards that employees might encounter during their day.  A workforce that is aware of these risks can be better prepared to deal with them should they occur. Employees that plan for risks this way are agile.  We should commend them for their ability to learn and grow with the changing landscape of their organization.

But now that you know what a risk assessment is, how would you go about creating one?  What are the most critical components to ensure your team is acting as safely on the job as possible?

We’ll dig a bit deeper into six separate components of a risk assessment that are the most important.  Giving each concept the right amount of attention should help you complete your risk assessment the right way and keep your team safe.

Identify workplace hazards

The first step to completing your risk assessment is to identify potential hazards in your workplace.  But don’t let the simplicity of this fool you. Identifying workplace hazards requires more thought than to look for unwound cables lying around on the floor.

Identifying hazards in the workplace as the first piece of a quality risk assessment requires pausing to consider factors that are normally not thought of.  To perform this step, you need to think outside the box.

To better understand, we’ll use an example of a piece of energized equipment located on the production floor of the warehouse where you work.  This is a piece of equipment that is on your list to maintain and you or your team does so every 6 months, as recommended. Because it’s maintained well, those maintenance sessions become commonplace.  So common in fact that you notice your team going through the motions while performing the maintenance.

Even though this maintenance takes place as scheduled, this is a great opportunity to review your risk assessment and identify potential workplace hazards.  Some questions to consider are:

“Are employees powering the equipment down for service or performing service while still energized?”

“Are employees taking shortcuts while maintaining the equipment?”

“Are the qualified employees doing the required maintenance?”

The sooner you can identify what rules your team is following when it comes to identifying workplace hazards, the sooner you can perform a proper risk assessment.

Identify Which Employees Could Be Harmed And How

This step could be a “part B” to the previous step.  Here, you’re still identifying workplace hazards to some degree.

More importantly in this step, you’re identifying anyone that could be harmed by potential hazards in the workplace.  Depending on your workplace environment, this might include people that are not employees. You’ll need to consider how contract agents, vendors and visitors also use your space at any given moment.

This is the step where the rubber meets the road.  

Here, you’re adding the potential workplace hazards faced to the people that could experience those hazards.  You’re thinking about the combination of those things and what they mean to your business, as well as the health and safety of others.

Some questions you might ask yourself in this phase are:

“Is workstation equipment adjusted depending on the employee that is using it?”

“Are loads of a certain weight being lifted differently than smaller loads in order to avoid undue stress and strain to an employee?”

“Is the ventilation of certain areas sufficient enough for quality air to continue moving through?”

After reviewing any and all possible risks your team faces are you able to determine the best ways to mitigate those risks.  This point cannot be understated.

A properly completed risk assessment is a well thought out evaluation of the hazards your team faces.  It’s not a “best guess”.

Evaluate the risks to your team

In this step, the measurement of risk is imperative.  If you’ve reached this step in your risk assessment, it means you’re considering the safety and health of your team.

You as an employer must decide the likelihood that each potential hazard will cause harm.  This is vital because it forces you (and your team) to think about how likely they are to face a hazardous situation.  It’s one thing to know of the dangers your team faces on a daily basis. It’s another thing to know how likely it is that those hazards occur.

It’s important to note that even after identifying all hazards and taking proper precautions  to cut those risks, there is still going to be a certain amount of risk. At this point, what’s most important is determining the tolerance level of the remaining risk.  

Because you’ve done a lot of work up to this point, the levels of risk you’re left to face should be low or minimal.  This makes both the risk and your team easier to manage.

Decide on what measures to take to control possible risks

Of the remaining risks, the question now is to take the appropriate steps on how to best manage or control what risk remains.

Remember, in the previous step of your risk assessment, you’ve worked hard to take precautions to avoid or manage risks.  But, because you still have a minimal amount of risk to face, how will you handle that moving forward?

Let’s look deeper into a scenario mentioned earlier.  Before, we asked the following question:

“Is workstation equipment adjusted depending on the employee that is using it?”

Suppose that part of your risk assessment determined that workstations and the necessary equipment at them was at the ideal height and location for the work to be done.  Even with this determination, you might have further questions about the remaining risk around this workstation. Those questions might sound like:

    • Will the employee using this station be sitting or standing for most of their day?
    • How does an employee need to move around this workstation to perform their job during the day?
    • How much time does one spend on the workstation versus it sitting idle most of the day?

Answering these questions can put in to perspective the risk that remains for an employee using this workstation.  Simple solutions might be to buy an adjustable chair for the station or to remove other “easier to move” objects from the area.  Again, the goal here is to continue to acknowledge the remaining risk and to prepare for it as best as possible.

Record data

This step in your risk assessment is where all your hard work is going to start to pay dividends.  

You’ve done more than enough research to identify valid workplace hazards, as well as learned what employees can be affected by these hazards and how.

You have also combined those two previous factors to gain a better understanding of the likelihood of hazards occurring and to what degree each employee faces them.  

But now is not the time to let your foot off of the gas.  You’re going to finish strong.

Recording your findings allows you to do a few things.  First, it gives you perspective. As said earlier, you’ve put a lot of effort into this risk assessment and this data proves it.  Data that represents this work doesn’t lie.

Second, it shows a history.  Recording your findings from all your research and observation makes it possible to track where you’ve been, as well as where you’re going.  With this kind of effort, you can only get better and safer moving forward.

But you can only move forward if you continue utilizing your data.  This risk assessment should live and breathe with your organization, meaning that data should get updated regularly.  This keeps you and your organization honest, as well as your team safe.

Review and implement my assessment

As the final piece of your risk assessment, it’s now time to review all the hard work you’ve put in.  It’s also time to put in place this new risk assessment as the “safety bible” at your organization.

We should be clear here.  Reviewing the assessment doesn’t mean reading it like a book and putting it back on the shelf.  Reviewing the risk assessment in this context means reliving your research and the points that keep your team safe.  The risk assessment shouldn’t become something that you and your team do. It needs to become a part of who you are as a leader and an organization.

Reviewing the assessment should also be done in a timely fashion.  The idea here is to keep this training at the front of your mind. Don’t bother only reviewing the assessment once or twice a year.  Take the time review it monthly to make sure it’s still in line with the safety goals of your organization.

You might even consider referencing it twice a month in regular meetings.  This can help keep all team members on the same page about safety initiatives.  You’ve poured so much thought and energy into this risk assessment to let it collect dust on the shelf.  

So there you have it.  An in depth look at the modern day risk assessment.  Following these steps will ensure that your team stays aware of their safety for a long time.  They’ll be more aware of how their work affects their well being and they’ll be engaged in keeping your organization a safer place for everyone.



New call-to-action



Topics:   Workplace Safety