Risk assessment

What you need to do...

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974  and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place duties on companies and individuals to ensure that adequate provision is made for health and safety at work. Employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees and any others who may be affected by what they do. This includes employees, any casual workers, part-timers, trainees, customers or contractors. It will also include those who may be affected by work activities, eg neighbours, sales people and members of the public.

What is risk assessment?

As farmers and growers, you use management systems to ensure that you keep crops and animals healthy and productive, and to enable you to stay in business. You plan what to plant and when, assess the risks of diseases and other incidents that may spoil the crop or animal. You control any problems, monitor growth, decide when to harvest, and store products in a way that ensures they stay fresh. You also work out how successful you have been and come up with improvements.

Managing health and safety is no different – you need to manage it to ensure that you, your workers, family members and others are safe at work.

Risk assessment is a careful look at what, in your business, could cause harm to people, so that you can decide whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more. The law does not expect you to eliminate risk, but to protect people as far as 'reasonably practicable'. Doing the assessment and taking action is what matters.

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How do I assess the risk?

Follow the five steps below.

A 'hazard' is anything that might cause harm, such as working from ladders or electricity.

The 'risk' is the chance that someone could be harmed by these hazards.

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Risk assessment step 1: What are the hazards?

A 'hazard' is anything that might cause harm, such as working from ladders or electricity.
The 'risk' is the chance that someone could be harmed by these hazards.

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Risk assessment step 2: Who might be harmed and how?

For each hazard you need to be clear about who might be harmed, eg employees, casual workers, members of the public, contractors and family, especially children. Think about the more vulnerable people, eg untrained or new workers, expectant mothers, visitors and maintenance workers.

Work out how they might be harmed and how, eg being killed by a bale or vehicle, injured by falling through a fragile roof, or suffering long-term health problems from breathing in grain dust.

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Risk assessment step 3: Weigh up the risks and decide on precautions

For each hazard you need to look at:

and compare them to what you need to do to comply with the law. If there is a gap between what you are doing and the standard that applies, you must take action.

For example, if you had an unguarded power take-off shaft it would be no good to simply tell workers not to go near it. What you need to do to comply with the law is have a well-maintained and effective guard. This means there is a big gap between what is in place and what should be in place. You would have to take action to install a new guard and then maintain it in good working order.

If you can, you must eliminate the hazard altogether, but if you cannot do this, then you must control the risks in the following order:

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Risk assessment step 4: Put the results into practice

A risk assessment is not an end in itself. It will not stop someone dying, being injured or made ill. This will only happen if you take action to deal with the hazards and risks you find.  

If you find there are many improvements needed, big and small, don't try to do everything at once. Deal with the most important things first, eg those that could kill, seriously injure or cause serious illness.

Make sure everyone who works on your farm knows about the results of your assessment and understands the controls you have put in place. Share information about hazards and risks with those who need it, eg tell contractors about asbestos in buildings.

If you employ five or more people then you must write down the significant findings of your assessment. See some examples of completed risk assessments.

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Risk assessment step 5: Check controls stay in place and review the assessment

Regularly check that your controls stay in place. You need to ensure that you are still improving or at least not letting standards slip back.

No workplace remains the same. Eventually you will buy new equipment or change ways of working that might bring in new hazards. If there is a significant change you need to respond to it straight away and review your assessment.

Why not decide on an annual date to review your risk assessment, so that even if there have not been any significant changes during the year, you leave yourself some flexibility to anticipate change and ensure you miss nothing?

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Employers have a legal obligation to consult employees on their health and safety at work. Where there is no recognised union you can choose to do this directly with individuals or through representatives elected from the workforce or use a combination of both. You must consult about anything that could significantly affect employee health and safety.