HSE provides a simple summary of the steps required:
Identify the hazards
Decide who might be harmed and how
Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Record your significant findings
Review your assessment and update if necessary
When thinking about your risk assessment, remember :
a hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc
the risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.
There a number of common errors and pitfalls which the Court may focus on :
Lots of Paper- Form over Substance
Most meaningful risk assessments require at least some documentation to be completed. Organising thoughts in writing both preserves the exercise carried out and achieves focus. However often it is undertaken as a requirement to comply with administrative procedures. What is important is the quality of the assessment rather than the volume of the material prepared.
Pro Forma- Generic over Specific
Generic risk assessments often signal to the Court that the document has not been critically considered by the company on it's journey from the consultant hired to produce the paper to the filing cabinet.
Wrong Objective- Hazard over Risk
What we should be doing is identifying real risks and controlling them, rather than cataloguing a large number of potential hazards and noting them without assessing the risk properly.
In one case a science museum was prosecuted and convicted of having Legionella bacteria in it's cooling tower. It had an inadequate maintenance system to detect and remove hazard. It appealed the conviction on the basis that it had no case to answer because there was no evidence of bacteria escaping the tower or being breathed in by the public. No one required access to the tower so there was no risk. The Court rejected the argument. On a true construction of S3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 it was decided that it was enough to show that the public were exposed to the risk that harmful bacteria could conceivably escape into the atmosphere. The fact it had not actually happened was irrelevant.
As always it is a good idea to think about what you want to achieve before writing health and safety documents for a business. A good starting point is to identify on a practical level what hazards exist, then evaluate whether and to what extent they produce a real risk of injury and finally try to determine the controls required to allow the activity to be carried on safely.