The five steps of risk assessment

It can sound quite complicated to somebody who’s not done it before, but following these steps will simplify your risk assessment process.

A large part of managing the health and safety of your business is controlling the risks in your workplace. This is one the activities which is a must-do – health and safety law does require it and it does by way of a risk assessment. For somebody with no health and safety experience or training, ‘risk assessment’ can sound scary and daunting. We speak to lots of people who don’t carry out risk assessments simply because they feel it’s too big a job, or it’s too complicated for them, even before they’ve started.

“A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

It is careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether  you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.”

Health and Safety Executive

There’s no fixed rule on how to do a risk assessment but the simplest way to do it, and the most commonly used method is to break down the task into these distinct five steps below. The steps will get you thinking about the different things you need to consider in a clear and structured way. In reality, you’ll already be doing risk assessments everyday, when you’re locking your office up or moving a trip hazard, these are all actions based on risk assessment, but because you don’t use a structure or write it down you don’t notice you’re doing it.

Health and Safety legislation says that if you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write your risk assessments down. But you still have to do it!

Before we get started on the steps, it’s important to remember that some of the hazards you have in your workplace might have specific, more detailed legislation or guidance surrounding them. These usually regard more high-risk hazards and if you have any you should consult the HSE guidance or get in touch with us at for help. 

Step 1 - What are the hazards?

A hazard is defined as anything that might cause harm. It’s easy to miss hazards when you’re in your place of work and going about your job so make sure it’s important to set aside specific time to purposefully searching for the hazards in your workplace.

Take your time, walk around all the areas in your workplace and jot down everything that could cause harm. As your employees if they’ve noticed anything, a fresh set of eyes always helps. Visit the HSE website for lists of hazardous items which you might have in your workplace. You don’t need to document all of the trivial hazards, focus on the hazards which require control measures (ie something to be done about them).


Step 2 - Who could be harmed?

For each of the hazards you’ve identified, think about who exactly might be harmed by them. For example workers, visitors, contractors etc. This will help you when you’re thinking about how you can make them safer later.

Remember to take your time, think outside of the box a little here and pay particular attention to those who might be more at risk than others. For example, do you have any young workers with little experience, workers or visitors who have/might have disabilities or perhaps contractors who aren’t familiar with your working methods?

Step 3 - What control measures are needed?

Now it’s time to think about how you can reduce or control the hazards as best as possible. The law requires you to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm. This means you aren’t expected to completely eliminate every hazard but you must put thought into each one.

So first, look at what you’re already doing, think about what controls you have in place and how the work is organised. Then compare this with the good practice (which can be found on the HSE website) and see if there’s more you should be doing to bring yourself up to standard.

Health and safety professionals talk about a hierarchy of control, put simply as yourself these questions.

– Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?

– If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is less likely?

When controlling risks, apply the principles below, if possible in the following order:

– Try a less risky option (eg switch to using a less hazardous machine 

– Prevent access to the hazard (eg by using guarding) 

– Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard (eg put barriers between pedestrians and traffic)

– Issue personal protective equipment (eg clothing, footwear, goggles etc) 

– Provide welfare facilities (eg first aid and washing facilities for removal of contamination).

Make sure that you consult anybody who might be affected, such as your employees, it’s important to remember that they will be the ones who will be using the new control measures the most and they most likely know the job better than you.

Step 4 - Record it

Keeping a record of your risk assessments will help to put your control measures in place, as well as evidence your compliance with the law. Keep it simple, a clear and concise document will easier and more inviting to read and use. The HSE look for the following to be displayed in your risk assessments:

– A proper check was made 

– You asked who might be affected; 

– You dealt with all the significant hazards, taking into account the number of people who could be involved; 

– The precautions are reasonable, and the remaining risk is low 

– You involved your staff or their representatives in the process.

Prioritise your control measures and make a plan of action, the HSE doesn’t expect you to do everything at once but they will expect to see constant and gradual improvement in the health and safety of your workplace.

Step 5 - Review it

Your workplace will change now and then, maybe you will have a new piece of equipment, a new layout or new staff. Because this happens, your old risk assessment will be invalid and so you should renew it. You might not have to renew the whole thing but just look at the areas of the business which have changed. Maybe a mini risk assessment might be more suitable on the changed areas instead of a full assessment.

If you have an accident or a near-miss, then you should definitely complete a new risk assessment to make sure that the control measures you have in place are suitable. At the end of every year or so, have a thorough review of the assessment to gauge how your new safety measures have worked, is your workplace safer now than it was and what can be done to improve it further.


Risk assessment shouldn’t be a scary or hugely time-consuming process. It shouldn’t stop you ‘doing your day job’ or be a huge pain. It’s about constant, gradual improvements in your health and safety.

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Compliance packages

If you’re looking for hands-on support with your health and safety, we offer an annual review of your risk assessments as part of our compliance packages.

Risk assessment classroom courses

We deliver two levels of risk assessment training. The six-hour Level 2 course is for those who may assist with assessments.The two-day Level 3 course is for those who conduct risk assessments themselves. 

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When assessing the hazards that exist in your workplace, you can give yourself a head start by understanding the most common ones that appear in your type of workplace.